AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
Our movie critic Bob Mondello has escaped Washington's summer heat by traveling to Argentina. When he got there, he noticed something surprising on an advertising billboard.
BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Here in Buenos Aires, south of the equator, July is cool and Coca-Cola logos are sometimes green. I used to collect Coke memorabilia, and red is what I've always associated with Coke, a specific, blazing, eye-catching shade of red, in fact. The company does have a rainbow's worth of product packaging these days: blue and green for Sprite, silver and gold for caffeinated and noncaffeinated Diet Coke, black for Coke Zero. But the colors in the basic Coca-Cola logo - ornate white letters on a red background - haven't changed in over a century, except here in Argentina for the last three weeks, where you see the words Coca-Cola spelled out in those same ornate white letters on a green background, everywhere from a giant electronic billboard in the heart of downtown Buenos Aires to the sides of delivery trucks to supermarket shelves and this TV commercial where a first sip from a green soft-drink can is being likened to a first kiss.
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SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER: (Singing) Kiss me out of the bearded barley nightly beside the green, green grass.
MONDELLO: It's the global kickoff of what Coke is describing as a natural and therefore green lower-calorie cola called Coca-Cola Life. I'm pronouncing that last word carefully because Diet Coke here is called Coca-Light. This is Coca-almost-Light - right in the middle between Diet Coke and regular Coke in terms of calories. What they're claiming makes it natural is that Coca-Cola Life is sweetened with a mix of sugar and what's pronounced in Argentina as stevia, an extract from the leaves of a shrub in the chrysanthemum family that grows here in Latin America. You may have seen it sold in packets under names like Truvia in the U.S.
It's said to be as much as 400 times sweeter than table sugar, without the calories, which means soft-drink companies are falling all over themselves to use it. The Coca-Cola Company is currently using stevia in 45 products worldwide. So how does it taste in this one? To see, I bought a bottle of Coca-Cola Life at a local supermarket along with a bottle of regular Coke. Let's try.
To my taste buds, they're almost indistinguishable. Coca-Cola Life may be a tiny bit sweeter, which may account for why the cashier at the store says that two weeks into their multimillion-dollar rollout, the green bottles and cans are selling pretty well, if not quite leaping off the shelves. Should Coca-Cola Life become a substantial hit in Argentina, it could expand to other markets. If not, it can disappear without the fallout that accompanied the scuttling of New Coke in the 1980s.
The greening of this natural product extends beyond the color green in its packaging. It's sold in what's labeled a PlantBottle made of a plastic that's 30 percent vegetable fiber, and that Coke says is 100 percent recyclable. That's nothing compared to the recyclability of bottles being marketed by the company elsewhere in South America. In Colombia, which sits right on the equator, Coke is being sold at the beach in bottles made entirely of ice.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)
MONDELLO: The ice bottles come with a thin plastic band printed with the Coke logo to make them easier to hold. The company, spying a possible logo-fashion opportunity, notes hopefully that the plastic holder can be used as a bracelet once the bottle has melted away. In Buenos Aires, I'm Bob Mondello.