Coke to unveil natural diet drink in U.S.: report

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Coca-Cola Co is expected to launch a drink in the United States this week containing a natural, calorie-free sweetener, the Wall Street Journal said on Monday, citing people familiar with the company’s plans.

A pedestrian crosses a road in front of an outdoor Coca-Cola advertisement in Sydney November 17, 2008. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

Coke is pushing ahead even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had not yet issued formal approval of the ingredient, the paper said.

Coke plans to market three flavors of a juice drink in its Odwalla line that contain the sweetener derived from the herb stevia, the paper said.

The world’s biggest soft-drink maker is also planning to add the natural sweetener to some of its Glaceau drinks, which include vitaminwater and smartwater, Beverage Digest publisher John Sicher said on Monday.

A Coke spokesman said the company would not comment until the FDA approves the sweetener, which it co-developed with agribusiness giant Cargill Inc.

Cargill is marketing a table-top version of the sweetener, called Truvia, as an alternative to sugar substitutes such as Equal, Sweet’N Low and Splenda.

Coke rival PepsiCo Inc said in July it would launch a new line of SoBe Life drinks with a version of the same sweetener, which it calls PureVia. A Pepsi spokesman said the company has not yet received FDA approval.

Coke and Pepsi’s sweeteners both come from stevia, which is approved as an additive in several countries including Japan and Brazil, and as a dietary supplement in the United States.

The FDA has said there is not enough data on stevia to approve its use as a food additive.

Coke, Pepsi and the companies they are working with say their sweeteners are more highly purified than the versions of stevia used in earlier tests, and that new data have been submitted to the FDA.

Reporting by Ajay Kamalakaran in Bangalore and Martinne Geller in New York; Editing by Mike Nesbit and Maureen Bavdek