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Coca-Cola is Thinking Health or Coffee or Tea or...

Coke's next 'real thing': lattes
Soda maker to launch Far Coast brand featuring coffee and tea drinks.

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Competition in caffeinated drinks is about to heat up with Coca-Cola's planned launch of premium brewed tea and coffee, a move it plans to announce next Wednesday in Toronto.

The world's biggest drink company, which derives most of its revenue from carbonated beverages, has been experiencing sluggish sales in developed markets, as consumers shift from sugary sodas to healthier low- or no-calorie drinks such as flavored waters.

Coke on Thursday invited reporters to next week's preview event, confirming reports earlier this year that it was testing in Toronto a brand called Far Coast that would offer drinks such as coffee, tea and lattes.

A Coke spokesman on Friday declined to elaborate beyond the invitation's details.

John Sicher, editor and publisher of industry newsletter Beverage Digest, told Reuters on Friday that sources said Coke will target restaurants and food-service outlets. He said it made sense since Coke is already the restaurant industry's biggest beverage supplier, mainly through sales of fountain drinks.

"I don't see Coke opening chains of retail stores," which would compete directly with Starbucks (Charts), Sicher said. "I see them opening a bunch of stores to showcase the brand, but long term I think it will be more of a brand and service they provide to restaurants."

He said it was an untapped area of significant growth that could eventually be a several-billion-dollar business.

If Coke does get into the food-service coffee and tea business, it would put more pressure on Sara Lee (Charts) as the food company, which also owns Senseo coffee, restructures to pare down its portfolio.

"It can't be good news for Sara Lee, which has struggled in this area," said Gregg Warren, analyst at Morningstar.

In an e-mail, Coke said it had chosen Toronto as the launch site for its entry into the hot beverage category. Sicher said other likely markets include Norway and Singapore.

Rival PepsiCo (Charts) has been lauded by investors for its success at reducing its dependency on carbonated drinks by increasing its snack offerings. Pepsi owns Frito-Lay snacks, Quaker cereals, and sports drink Gatorade.

Marc Heilweil, president of Spectrum Advisory Services, which owns 126,080 Coke shares, said Coke's anticipated entrance into the coffee business was not at all surprising.

"Coke has been slow and not had the strongest offerings in 'noncarbs'. That's part of where they have been going for the last few years," Heilweil said.

"The negative is that they've got to put enough marketing muscle behind these products and I don't think they have done that in some of their offerings in the noncarb business," Heilweil said.

Jack Trout, president of marketing strategy firm Trout & Partners, said in marketing terms it would not be smart for Coke to associate its coffee and tea with its famous fizzy soft drink.

"This has to be handled like a separate brand or a separate company," Trout said. Consumers "would never line up Coke with coffee. They're the cold guys."

Earlier this year, Coke introduced a coffee-infused drink, Coca-Cola Blak, in North America and France, but analysts have likened it more to an energy drink than a coffee concoction.

Coke also stumbled several years ago when it acquired a bottled coffee brand called Planet Java and folded it into a joint venture with giant Swiss food company Nestlé. The drink floundered, and it was shelved.

Coke (Charts) shares closed at $45.07 on the New York Stock Exchange Friday.

Source CNN