Coca-Cola is expanding its pursuit of all-natural low- or no-calorie sugar alternatives with the launch of two sweetener challenges on the HeroX crowdsourcing platform. And the company is sweetening the pot in both competitions by putting up potential prize money.  

Robert Long, SVP and chief innovation officer at Coca-Cola, said the company is pleased with the range of low- and no-calorie sweeteners it uses in its beverages around the world, including stevia. The HeroX campaigns, he continued, support the company’s commitment to constantly innovate and refresh its drinks portfolio and keep looking for new beverage ingredients to meet consumers’ evolving tastes and lifestyles.  

The “sweet story challenge” invites people around the world to submit written anecdotes and videos about their favorite, tried-and-true methods of naturally sweetening foods or beverages in their cultures, communities or families. Up to five individual or team winners will vie for $100,000 in total prize money, with winners announced in December.

A second challenge is a call to action for researchers and scientists to find a naturally sourced, safe, low- or no-calorie compound that creates the taste sensation of sugar when used in beverages and foods. One grand prize winner will be awarded $1 million in October 2018.

“We’re always searching for newer, better ingredients, and we know that amazing ideas can come from anywhere,” Long said. “These two challenges are very much rooted in our desire to make the drinks our consumers want to drink, and in our willingness to look beyond the walls of our company for breakthrough sugar alternatives that help us deliver the great taste people love but with less sugar and fewer calories.”

The project is being led by Coca-Cola’s External Technology Acquisition Team (ETA), which explores and invests in emerging ingredients, packaging materials, beverage production technologies and more.

'We’re always searching for newer, better ingredients, and we know that amazing ideas can come from anywhere. These two challenges are very much rooted in our desire to make the drinks our consumers want to drink, and in our willingness to look beyond the walls of our company for breakthrough sugar alternatives that help us deliver the great taste people love but with less sugar and fewer calories.'

Earlier this year, Coca-Cola announced plans to accelerate its transformation into a total beverage company by reshaping its growth strategy and operating model in line with changing consumer tastes and buying habits. James Quincey, who became CEO on May 1, said the company will focus on driving revenue going forward by building “consumer-centric” brands – including more low- and no-sugar options and drinks in emerging categories. And this shift, Quincey says, demands a willingness to take smart risks and pursue new ways of working and innovating.

“As we expand our portfolio, we are embracing a ‘test-and-learn’ mentality…” he said on July 26 during Coke’s second quarter 2017 earnings call. “We’re seeing what consumers want and making adjustments immediately. Because at the end of the day, speed and agility are critical in this rapidly changing consumer landscape.”