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July 16, 2013

Bad weather complicates Coca-Cola's soda struggles

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

In the meantime, Coca-Cola and rival PepsiCo Inc. have been trying to come up with a soda that uses a natural, low-calorie sweetener to reverse the slide in U.S. soda consumption. The challenge is that such sweeteners often have a bad aftertaste. Notably, Coca-Cola has yet to roll out a mid-calorie version of Fanta and Sprite using the sweetener stevia that it began testing last summer.

Nevertheless, executives at both companies have expressed optimism that natural, lower-calorie sodas can get soda sales on the path to growth.

"We're watching, we're learning," said Steve Cahillane, who heads the company's North American and Latin American operations.

To hit back at critics, Coca-Cola also began a TV ad campaign addressing obesity for the first time in January. The ad noted that weight gain is the result of consuming too many calories of any kind, not just soda.

Similar ads have since been rolled out, with a focus on cable news channels where Coca-Cola believes viewers are more influential in shaping public opinion.

Coca-Cola, based in Atlanta, has also been relying on its bottled teas, water and sports drinks to boost sales. It sold more of such uncarbonated drinks in North America for three months ended June 28, but not enough to offset the decline in sodas.

During the quarter, volume for Europe also declined 4 percent, with Coca-Cola noting the impact of severe flooding in parts of Germany and central Europe. By contrast, the region encompassing Africa, the Middle East and Russia saw a 9 percent gain in volume. The Asia region rose 2 percent, with volume in China even from a year ago.

In addition to bad weather, the company noted that it was dealing with challenging economic conditions and other socioeconomics factors, such as unrest in the Middle East.

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