Coke, Green Tea and Trust

The Coca Cola company, with Nestle, is test-marketing a new product called Enviga. It’s being marketed as “the drink proven to burn calories.” It also raises some high-stakes trust issues for Coke, the food business, and business in general.

"Enviga is a great tasting beverage that invigorates your metabolism to gently burn calories, and it’s a positive step people can take as part of a balanced lifestyle – like taking the stairs."

John Hackett, senior vice president, Coca-Cola North America Marketing

“In no way, shape or form are we suggesting that Enviga is a weight loss beverage.”

Dr. Rhoda Applebaum, Coke’s chief scientist

Hmmm…

"Many consumers are going to see the term ‘calorie burner’ and think it means weight loss."

Parke Wilde, director, food policy and applied nutrition, Tufts’ nutrition school

“It’s ironic that Coke, a company that has been a major promoter of weight gain, is now pretending that it is coming to the rescue of overweight people,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “Plain old tap water has zero calories, five calories fewer than Enviga, but unlike Enviga, tap water doesn’t cost 15 bucks a gallon.”

2003, Coke’s then-CEO:

"The Coca-Cola Company has always been fundamentally in the relationship business, and trust is at the heart of every relationship our Company has ever developed. Consumers trust that they’ll be refreshed by the highest-quality beverage. Customers trust that we’ll provide the highest level of service and attention to their needs. Our bottling partners trust that we’re operating in the best interests of the Coca-Cola system. In short, when you’re fundamentally in the relationship business, trust is the essential first condition. But you can’t demand trust—you have to earn it."

—Conversation with CEO Doug Daft, 2003

Here’s an example of what’s at stake:

Coca-Cola has been voted as one of the most Trusted Brands by Reader’s Digest -celebrating its 52nd year in India in the Reader’s Digest Asia’s Trusted Brands Survey 2006. Coca-Cola in Asia has been voted as a ’Platinum Winner’ and Coca-Cola in India has been voted as a ’Gold Winner’.

Trust is indeed important for a company like Coca Cola—moreso than perhaps they realize. Parse Daft’s statement on trust and you’ll find it wanting—except for the line about bottling partners, it’s indistinguishable from a generic "we provide best quality products and services" statement. Daft uses "trust" as a synonym for expectations—a pretty narrow definition.

For a global company like Coca Cola, the more relevant synonyms for trust would be credibility and self-orientation. That is, are they seen to be believable, and in whose interests are they seen to be acting?

(The right answers would be ‘yes’, and ‘those of several stakeholders’.) What’s your sense of Coke’s answer?