Coca-Cola's New Ingredient in Japan Is Kale

Deal to Buy Local Health Food Producer Will Ramp Up Beverage Innovation

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TOKYO (AdAge.com) -- Coca-Cola Co. drinks made from kale -- a nutritious but not very tasty leafy green vegetable -- could soon turn up on store shelves.

Coke has acquired a health-food producer that makes a drink with kale.
Coke has acquired a health-food producer that makes a drink with kale.
Coca-Cola West, the Atlanta-based beverage giant's largest bottler in Japan, said this week it will spend $425.6 million to buy Q'Sai Co., a major Japanese health-food producer whose main product is a green juice called "aojiru" made of kale. Q'sai, a Fukuoka-based company that also produces supplements, soap and cream made of collagen, was put up for sale earlier this year by owners Daiwa Corporate Investment.

Kale juice made by Coke probably won't go on sale in the U.S. any time soon, but Japan has long served as a source of inspiration and innovation for Coca-Cola in areas such as health drinks, a hot trend here.

Coke has developed a broad spectrum of products catering to palates and dietary concerns of Japanese consumers, such as VegitaBeta, which contains a beta-carotene supplement; the Cal King yogurt drink; and Daizu no Susume Jai Law, a grapefruit-flavored soy drink. Coke has even developed a corn soup called Bistrone. The company's best-selling brand in Japan is Georgia Coffee, not Coke, and its Sokenbicha ready-to-drink tea is a category leader in that country.

New ideas coming out of Japan are not limited to drink flavors. Coca-Cola has introduced vending machines for both hot and cold products that can interact with consumers, cashless payment options and networked vending systems. Three years ago, Coca-Cola launched Patissiolle, a chilled-cup coffee product sold in a type of aluminum packaging that is believed to be a world first.

While Japan is a large market for Coca-Cola, the country's economy hasn't kept pace with its developments in design and innovation. Like many multinationals, Coke is turning toward emerging markets such as China and India, where it also has research and development centers turning out products specially designed for local consumers like Minute Maid Pulpy fruit juice.

Coca-Cola is "constantly evaluating and exploring opportunities to expand and further diversify our beverage portfolio," said Ricardo Fort, the company's VP-marketing in India.

Earlier this month in India, Coca-Cola launched an inexpensive milk-and-mango drink called Maaza Milky Delite, developed in its R&D lab in a Delhi suburb called Gurgaon. Coke is testing the drink -- similar to yogurt-based lassi drinks popular in parts of India -- in Kolkata. A national rollout is expected late this year.

Over the next two months, Coke will introduce Maaza Milky Delite across 3,000 retail outlets in Kolkata, said Vikas Chawla, who runs Coke's bottling operations in India.

Coca-Cola has organized road shows and sampling programs to promote the new brand alongside a TV spot created by Leo Burnett, Delhi, using the tagline "Sharing Not Possible."

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