Every bold new recipe starts with an idea.  As Coca-Cola South Pacific’s Technical Director, George Droumev zeroes in on the best of those ideas and figures out how to get them to market. Here, Droumev talks about the latest thinking related to low- or no-sugar drinks, the science of sweetness and other innovations.

Coca Cola South Pacific
George Droumev - Coca-Cola South Pacific’s Technical Director

How innovative are we in New Zealand?

We’re often recognised as one of the most innovative and brave countries in the world - so we’re seen as the ideal place to pilot new products. We were one of the first countries to launch Coca-Cola No Sugar this year and we’ve just launched the new Coke Raspberry - a quintessential Kiwi classic – ahead of any other country on the planet. New Zealand will be a world-first for other innovative products coming up next year as well.

We produce world firsts here too. Coca-Cola’s first organic products in the world, the Most Organic juice range, were produced in New Zealand. Other innovations here include sustainable packaging through lighter bottles and moving towards non-added preservatives, starting with colas and natural flavours.

What drives innovation in New Zealand?

It’s as simple as giving Kiwis what they want in their drinks. We watch current trends, monitor the tastes people are seeking and stay close to any concerns they may have.

At the moment consumers want more low and no sugar drinks, they’re seeking natural ingredients and they’re asking for more premium and indulgent beverages. So we look to meet their needs by evolving, experimenting and innovating.

With the trend towards low and no sugar beverages, how do you approach creating alternatives to sugar that still taste good?

Taste is king. We never forget that. It’s the key driver of our work with sweeteners and sweetener innovation. There’s very little point producing low and no sugar drinks if no one wants to drink them.

With Kiwis asking for more natural ingredients, we’ve been doing a lot of work with alternatives to sugar, such as stevia, ensuring they stand up to the taste test and are cost-effective. Our recently launched Keri Juice range with 50% reduced sugar is sweetened with stevia.

What are some of the main hurdles you come across in terms of innovating?

Getting people to change habits of a lifetime. It’s one thing producing new low and no sugar drinks, it’s another thing getting people to try them. Exposing people to these new products is the reason we carried out an extensive sampling campaign when we launched Coca-Cola No Sugar this year.

Knowing when to simply reduce the sweetness of the drink itself - and be confident consumers will adapt to the less-sweet taste - or directly replace the sweet taste with sugar alternatives is something we are always looking at. This can be a tricky balancing act with some countries and brands more suited for it than others.

What opportunities are you excited about right now?

Drinks which explore sensory experiences in your mouth, such as tingling or spice, is a really exciting area we’re experimenting with. There’s also some interesting work being done with blurring traditional beverage categories, such as combining juice and milk and creating carbonated milk and drinking yoghurt.

There are new categories emerging in the area of crafted beverages as well as enhanced technology enabling increased personalisation of beverages and packaging to better fit people’s lifestyles.