Diet Coke sales continue to decline among pop drinkers

Sales of Diet Coke are "under pressure," Coke execs say. Getty Images

ATLANTA – Coca-Cola’s global carbonated beverage¬†volumes rose in the the final three months of 2015, even as Diet Coke continued to suffer declines.

The world’s largest beverage maker said Tuesday that unit volume worldwide, which reflects average daily sales, rose 2 per cent in the final quarter¬†of last year, as the growth of Sprite offset a decrease in Diet Coke. Non-carbonated drinks such as bottled water rose 6 per cent.

Coke executives have said Diet Coke’s decline has been largely a U.S. issue. That trend continued in the quarter, with the company’s registering a 5 per cent drop in Diet Coke sales volume for the region. But Coke Zero, which uses different sweeteners and has been marketed toward men, experienced growth.

“Some of it may be cannibalization,” said Chief Financial Officer Kathy Waller in a phone interview. “There are a lot more men drinking Coke Zero that used to drink Diet Coke.”

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While the company is working on slowing the falloff, Waller said she didn’t know whether “I can tell you when it’s going to stop declining.”

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Other major diet sodas have also waned in popularity. In hopes of reviving sales of Diet Pepsi, for instance, PepsiCo swapped out the sweetener in the soda over the summer. PepsiCo has previously said it’s too early to tell whether that change has helped win back customers.

Coca-Cola Co. said its organic revenue, which strips out the impact of acquisitions and divestitures and the impact of currency fluctuations, declined primarily as a result of six fewer days in the quarter compared to a year ago. That meant its total concentrate sales for the period declined 3 per cent. That was partially offset by higher pricing, the company said.

Coke also said it would accelerate its refranchising of company-owned bottling territories in North America by the end of 2017, instead of by 2020.

For the final three months of the year, Coke earned $1.24 billion, or 28 cents per share. After excluding one-time items, it earned 38 cents per share. That was a penny more than Wall Street expected, according to Zacks Investment Research.

Total revenue fell 8 per cent to $10 billion in the period, though better than the $9.86 billion analysts expected.

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