Health experts have accused Coca-Cola of ‘reinventing alcopops’ with a brand of fruit- flavoured sparkling water laced with alcohol.
Following a slump in sales of some of its most popular drinks, the firm will this month launch Topo Chico hard seltzer in Britain.
The ‘alcoholic water’ contains 4.7 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) – slightly higher than an average beer.
Coca-Cola says its policy is to ‘champion’ responsible drinking, but Dr Tony Rao, an expert on alcohol addiction and a visiting researcher at King’s College London, said: ‘This is a disingenuous attempt to reinvent the alcopops of the 1990s.’
Referring to the Topo Chico mineral water owned by Coca-Cola and sold in the US, he added: ‘It has the name of a sparkling mineral water brand, but has stronger alcohol content than many cans of beer. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing for alcohol-harm reduction.’
The world’s largest soft drinks company has seen its global net operating revenues fall by more than £8 billion since 2012, with sales of its most sugary drinks hit by health warnings.
In response, Coca-Cola, which bought four wine operations in the late 1970s, including two vineyards in California, wants to cash in on the boom in mineral water drinks mixed with fruit flavourings and alcohol, known as ‘hard seltzers’, which is already worth £2.8 billion a year in the US.
Topo Chico has far less sugar than the popular alcopops such as Hooch and Two Dogs which were accused of encouraging underage drinking.
It has 96 calories per 330ml can and will be available in three flavours. Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, a coalition of organisations working to reduce the harm caused by alcohol, said hard seltzers ‘masquerade’ as healthy products.
Prof Gilmore added: ‘We cannot leave our nation’s health in the hands of alcohol producers, who will always put profits first while claiming to champion responsible drinking.’
The new product will face stiff competition. The world’s largest brewer, the multinational AB InBev, sells a range of Mike’s Hard Seltzer in the UK, promoted as vegan and gluten-free with five per cent ABV.
Swedish brewery Kopparberg also markets a hard seltzer range, including black cherry and passionfruit flavours.
A Coca-Cola spokesman said: ‘The launch of Topo Chico marks Coca-Cola’s first alcohol brand in Britain. We’re excited about the launch.
‘A specific global responsible marketing policy was developed to ensure both Coca-Cola and our bottling partners grow this brand in a responsible and sustainable way, that our marketing does not appeal to people under the legal purchase age and that we champion responsible consumption.’
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.