HOUSTON: Coca-Cola's Minute Maid brand plans a major PR push aimed at consumers and healthcare professionals for its Premium Heart Wise orange juice, a new product that it says lowers cholesterol levels.
Coke will work with its long-time agency Burson-Marsteller on Heart Wise, said Ray Crockett, Coke's senior major of public relations.
"We will have a well-rounded PR plan," he said. "Our plan's still ahead of us."
The first shipment of Heart Wise, which was sent to stores on October 27, received extensive media coverage. Coke opted not to offer any one outlet an exclusive, Crockett said.
The new orange juice contains cholesterol-lowering plant sterols, which are already being used in a cholesterol-fighting margarine and other food products.
"There are 100 million Americans with high or borderline-high cholesterol," and they are the primary market for the new product, Crockett said.
Coca-Cola backed up the product's introduction by discussing results of a clinical trial in which patients at a major medial center drank Heart Wise with meals for eight weeks and lowered their LDL - or bad - cholesterol levels.
Beverage analyst Tom Pirko, president of Santa Barbara, CA-based Bevmark, said of the new product and the impact it will have on Minute Maid's image and sales: "I think it probably helps, but I think it's incremental. I don't believe this is the second coming."
The last time orange-juice manufacturers attempted to convey a health message was when they introduced varieties with calcium, Pirko noted. Competitors will likely jump on the anti-cholesterol bandwagon.
"If everybody starts to do it, it becomes devalued, like the word natural," he said.
If Coca-Cola's PR plan follows what other food and beverage makers have done with new health-oriented products, the company is likely to seek out healthcare professionals to endorse Heart Wise.
Pirko added that so many food and beverage companies are now talking about having healthy products that the public may soon react by balking at such messages. "We're living in an era of the marketing of fear," he said.