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Coke tries alternative with new Fruitopia line

The Coca-Cola Co. introduced Tuesday a line of funky fruit drinks, declaring it wanted to be a major player in the fast-growing market for "alternative" beverages like Snapple.

With its new drink, called Fruitopia, Coke throws its hefty marketing and distribution muscle into the $6-billion alternative beverage market. That includes such names as Snapple and Arizona and refreshments like ready-to-drink teas, fruit drinks, bottled waters and so-called natural sodas.

Analysts said the move showed how consumers were changing the refreshment industry by seeking drinks that seemed healthier and more flavorful.

Sergio Zyman, Coca-Cola's chief marketing officer, told a news conference Fruitopia was "the first truly global launching of an alternative product.

"We have said that we are going to accelerate both the frequency and the velocity of our new product introductions," to keep up with fast-changing tastes, said Zyman. Fruitopia, he said, "represents our initial effort."

Consumers will start finding such Fruitopia flavors as Raspberry Psychic Lemonade and Strawberry Passion Awareness on their shelves in about a month.

He said Coke currently has about 8 percent of the alternative market, but hopes to double that within a year and control 30 percent in three years.

The alternative beverage market is still tiny compared to the $48-billion soft drink industry. But while colas are growing slowly, alternative drinks are growing at double-digit rates, analysts say.

The non-carbonated Fruitopia drinks, decorated with abstract designs in pinks and oranges, are aimed at drinkers from 18 to 39. They are billed as fun, all-natural refreshments that combine juice with what Coke calls a contemporary consciousness.

With a $30-million advertising campaign and Coke's worldwide reach, Fruitopia may squeeze some products off the shelf, analysts said. But they doubted the victims would include Snapple.

Coke, however, is "suddenly the giant in the category just by virtue of their spending and their (distribution) system," said Tom Pirko, president of BevMark Inc., a consulting firm.

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