Using its own classification system, Coca-Cola refers to its brands with simple labels to describe how they are performing. The “core” brands are those central to its performance, including Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite. Then there are “master” brands that account for substantial share, though only in one market or country. They offer promising potential though, were they to be expanded and made accessible to more consumers. Finally, the corporation notes the presence of “zombie” brands—those that simply do not provide much benefit.

Although Coca-Cola has long been willing to get rid of zombie stockkeeping units, such as particular package sizes that seem redundant or unnecessary, its recent effort to shed full zombie brands represents a more aggressive approach to its product line. For example, it is eliminating the Odwalla brand altogether. This radical cut opens more shelf space for other products that Coca-Cola hopes to sell, though it also means the loss of approximately 300 jobs.

As a replacement offering, Coca-Cola is investing more in brands such as Topo Chico, a sparkling mineral water that has been available in relatively limited markets thus far. It also is diverting more resources to brands that it regards as likely to grow, including Minute Maid.

Defining the classification of brands varies with broader environmental factors too. For example, sales in public spaces such as stadiums and movie theaters inevitably dropped during the COVID-19 lockdowns, but Simply juice and Fairlife milk enjoyed increased sales to people who were spending more time at home. Anticipating the return of public entertainment venues though, Coca-Cola also is developing and installing touchless cola fountains, to eliminate the need for consumers to push buttons and potentially spread germs when pouring their favorite beverage.

Discussion Questions

  1. From a product line perspective, what is the difference between cutting zombie stockkeeping units and cutting zombie brands?
  2. How effective is Coca-Cola’s three-part classification of brands? Would you recommend adding any other classifications? Like what?

Source: Tonya Garcia, “Coca-Cola Plans to Cut ‘Zombie Brands’ from its Portfolio,” Market Watch, July 25, 2020