The Nigeria bottling company (NBC), producers under franchise, of Coca-cola, Sprite and Fanta brands of soft drinks in a new television advert, is parroting its new product, ”zero sugar” coke,  touting it as having the “original taste” while urging consumers to watch out for it with its “black cork”.

Omission

However, it is coming rather late to Nigeria, nay Africa as this presumably healthier variant of coca-cola had long been  on sale in Europe, the United States and Latin American countries while our markets are still being flooded with the other types of carbonated soft drinks.

Boldly written on the coke being sold abroad are the inscriptions, “New Improved Taste   Coca-cola zero Sugar   Zero calorie cola” and it comes in all forms – bottle, plastic, can.

That being sold in our markets and shops now reads, “Zero sugar Coca-cola Great tasting and refreshing”.  ‘Zero calorie cola’ is not on it.

Court ruling

It is worthy of note that carbonated drinks in Nigeria had come under the radar of the National Assembly.  This itself was sequel to a Lagos High Court ruling in March last year ordering the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to direct the NBC to put out a warning label on particularly Fanta and Sprite intimating that both products are dangerous when consumed with Vitamin C.

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Recall that a businessman had sued NBC following confiscation of a consignment of sprite and fanta he had shipped to the United Kingdom (UK). The UK authorities based their action on the fact that both products after tests contained high levels of benzoic acid and sunflower additives that were not permissible in their nation. The NBC had reportedly argued that its Nigeria-made products, were not meant for export.

It maintained that the percentages of chemical components of its soft drinks were safe for consumption in Nigeria, adding that they passed through its “stringent” quality control processes. However, the judge ruled that the products ought to be fit for human consumption anywhere in the world irrespective of “race, colour or creed”.

NationalAssemblyinvestigation

It was against this background and the apparent panic which the court ruling engendered among consumers that the House of Representatives instituted an adhoc committee to investigate the safety of carbonated soft drinks in Nigeria. And after one year, the House in March of this year adopted  the following resolutions:

From January 1, 2019, NAFDAC  should compel producers and manufacturers of soft drinks to indicate all chemicals, acids, colorants and preservatives contained in their products on the packs or bottles no matter how negligible they are;  with effect from January 1, 2019, expiry date should be printed on all carbonated and non-carbonated drinks produced and marketed in Nigeria; review of standards should be undertaken bi-annually by the regulating agency particularly the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) in partnership with NAFDAC.

It also stated that effective from January, 1, 2019, a warning label should be printed on fanta and sprite stating that they are harmful when taken with ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).

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Mixed feelings

Even before the court’s directive and National Assembly’s resolutions on carbonated drinks, Nigerians had had mixed feelings about them. The concern stemmed from information explosion through which Nigerians are catching up with the industrialised countries in being health conscious.  This had made Nigerians to fret about the health implications of soft drinks with many now patronising local products as kunu and zobo.

Ingredients

Some years ago NBC introduced ‘Diet Coke’ into the Nigerian market. But it did not make much impact as many consumers complained that it did not have “the coca-cola” taste.  Now NBC is bringing to Nigeria, this new “zero sugar” coke. Both the new black cork coke and the red cork one we had been used to are still classified  as “carbonated soft drink”.

The tastes are slightly different although the more important thing is their chemical compositions. In this wise the new coca-cola contains all that the existing red cork coke has except sugar. Ingredients of the latter are listed in small letters on the cork (which consumers pay little or no attention to) as, carbonated water; sugar; colour; caramel and acidulant in the form of phosphoric acid.

For the zero sugar coca-cola, its acidulants are given as phosphoric acid and sodium citrate. Other ingredients in it are, carbonated water; colourant; caramel; non–nutritive sweeteners: aspartame and acesulfame-K; preservative: sodium benzoate; cola flavour; caffeine.

There is also a warning on it. It reads, “caution: contains aspartame a source of phenylalanine”.

Caution

As it is, the chemical components of zero sugar coke are more detailed than the other red cork coke we are used to.  Rather surprisingly and contrary to the advert, on the old coca-cola is written “original taste” which is apparently meant to be its unique selling point. No such thing is written on the zero sugar coca-cola.

Diversification

Nigeria Bottling Company’s statement of accounts is not publicly available as it de-listed from the Nigeria Stock Exchange years ago. But its parent company the Coca-Cola company based in the United States reported that its net revenue dropped by 20 per cent to $7.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2017 and by 15 per cent to $35.4 billion for the whole of 2017.

This it attributed to “refranchising in bottling territories”. Fact of the matter is that citizens worldwide are moving away from sweet, sugary drinks to reduce or manage cases of high blood pressure, diabetes and the like.

Reading the handwriting on the wall, Coca-Cola is diversifying to other products as juice, water, dairy, etc.  The future belongs to healthy foods and drinks.

Written by Victoria Ngozi Ikeano.

Victoria Ngozi Ikeano a journalist, is a quiet, reflective person who does not run with the crowd. She  can be reached  via 08033077519