Coke's silence doesn't stop Vanilla hype

ATLANTA: Coke's new vanilla variety was hot news last week - before Coca-Cola had even said a word.

ATLANTA: Coke's new vanilla variety was hot news last week - before Coca-Cola had even said a word.

But while acknowledging that Coca-Cola has reaped millions of dollars of free publicity for its as-yet-unofficial Vanilla Coke, industry sources are skeptical over speculation that the soft-drink maker leaked the story.

Tom Pirko, president of Bevmark, a California beverage consultant who has done work for Coca-Cola in the past, asked, "Why have the media spoil your campaign? It just confuses the issue. You don't want to lose control.

You already have people prejudging your product."

Coca-Cola has said nothing officially about the new product. Word of it first broke in industry trade publication Beverage Digest last November.

A more recent story in the same newsletter detailing possible new products from Coca-Cola and Pepsi sparked last week's media frenzy about the vanilla variety. It has been covered by Reuters, AP, Dow Jones, and, among several other media outlets. Last week, the New York Post ran a story criticizing the taste of the new product, claiming it had secured a sample - fuelling speculation of a leak.

John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, said his original story on Vanilla Coke cited bottlers as sources. Coca-Cola has given him no publishable comment.

But Coca-Cola will benefit from the coverage, Sicher said. "We live in an era where there's a premium on innovation, and news about innovation is good news,

he explained.

Gary Hemphill, an ex-Pepsi PR staffer who is now VP with Beverage Marketing in New York, agreed the recent spate of coverage will help Coca-Cola.

"Part of the goal when you introduce a new product is to get people to try it. It's good for Coke to get buzz going,

he said.

As to where the story started, Hemphill said, "There are dozens of potential leaks outside the company.

Bottlers, packagers, and labeling companies were cited as possible sources.

The recent attention won't likely alter plans to roll out Vanilla Coke according to its original timetable, which should mean a summer introduction, sources agreed.

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