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Blak joins carbonated energy drink craze

LAWRENCEVILLE

Coke Blak, a low-cal blend of coffee and carbonation, hits the shelves Monday.

Coca Cola's newest beverage may have enough caffeine to perk up the coffee-crazed masses and a low-cal kick to muscle into the $3.5 billion energy drink market, especially the carbonated segment Red Bull jump-started several years ago.

"It appeals to both, and that's what makes it such a clever product," said John Sicher, publisher of the industry journal Beverage Digest.

The new drink comes in a shiny black and tan 8-ounce bottle. It costs from $1.70 to $2, according to Consumer Reports.

It's the latest concoction for Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. The company recently introduced Coke Zero and Black Cherry Vanilla Coke. The timing seemed right for another debut given all the new drinks the company is putting on the market, said Coke spokesman Scott Williamson.

Coca-Cola's strategy also illustrates how much the beverage aisle has changed. It's not like the old days when shelves were only filled with soft drinks, juices, tea and water.

"The industry now understands innovation is pathway to growth," Sicher said.

Perhaps the fastest-changing beverage niche is carbonated energy drinks, with everything from Red Bull to Rooster Booster brands in the mix. Coke already bucked up with Full Throttle, and PepsiCo. with AMP.

James Liang, who runs a smoothie bar at a local gym, has several energy drinks on his shelves.

Coke Blak's idea to blend coffee, caffeine and low-calories is solid, but the name of the drink might look wimpy next to the "Monster" and "Rip It" brands he carries.

"Sounds more like a soft drink to me," said the 34-year-old owner of Atlanta Smoothie at LA Fitness on Sugarloaf Parkway.

Coffee and cola blends are nothing new, according to Consumer Reports. A decade ago, Pepsi Kona, Java Cola, and Cafe Cola were introduced to put some fizz back in an otherwise flat carbonated beverage market. All failed, Consumer Reports said.

Another version of Coke Blak, with a different formula, is already on sale in France. The U.S. variety is sweeter, with a caramel flavor more like Coca-Cola Classic, according a Consumer Reports taste test whose results were released Friday.