Why can't I find Cherry Coke Zero?
June 11, 2009 6:32 PM   Subscribe

Who decides what flavors of Coca-Cola are available for sale in different areas?

For the recent Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I drove to her parents, about 5 hours away. We've made this trip a hundred times, and routinely stop at the same gas stations at various points during the trip. While at one for a bathroom break and soda restock, I noticed they had Cherry Coke Zero available. I've always loved Cherry Coke, but stopped drinking it when I switched to Diet Cokes (to cut down on the amount of sugar I was consuming). So I grabbed one, and stopped at the same place on the way back and bought another one. Now I'm at home, and I can't find anybody who stocks them.
One a related note, a few years ago I decided I wanted to cut down on the amount of caffeine I was getting, so I started buying caffeine-free Diet Cokes whenever I could find then. But I've noticed I can only find them in certain areas of town (none within a 20-minutes drive). One day I asked the manager of the nearby gas station if he could order some, and he said he'd find out. A few days later, he told me he couldn't. I didn't bother asking why.
But now I'm wondering why. Who decides this stuff? Was the store manager BSing me? Does the Coca-Cola corporation or the bottlers or distributors set restrictions on what flavors can be sold in what areas? Or is it just a simple matter of supply-and-demand?
Thanks for the help with this nagging question.
posted by ChrisLSU to Food & Drink (9 answers total)
the almighty dollar.

coca-cola will sell whatever product it can, where ever it can. stores in certain areas ask for certain stock, and not for other stock. certain products do better in one area than another.

if you are friendly with a local store, and you requested a certainly coca-cola product, i bet they could get it for you.
posted by Flood at 7:29 PM on June 11, 2009

I don't think the guy was BSing you. Frito-Lay refused to give my father's store the Baked Lays, because college towns weren't a "good market" for them. Baked Lays were a "suburban" chip, so they shipped them to those stores instead. I bet Coke has a similar policy.
posted by MaritaCov at 8:04 PM on June 11, 2009

Coke products are bottled locally by independent bottlers using the syrup from the parent company. This is from the Coka-Cola Enterprises website (they are the largest bottler of Coke, not to be confused with Coca-Cola Company).

Generally, our local bottling operations determine product availability, choosing which ones to package and sell in their territories based on consumer demand and other market factors. We produce and distribute a great variety of brands, products and packages, and some experience greater popularity in specific areas of the country. For example, Barq's Root Beer has a strong presence in the Louisiana/Gulf States area because that’s where the brand originated. Due to local market strength, bottlers there produce a greater variety of packaging for Barq’s than in other parts of the country.
posted by metahawk at 8:09 PM on June 11, 2009


The Coca Cola Company actually owns a lot of the bottlers. Back in the day, Coke was strictly a fountain drink and the Company didn't see much future in bottling, so their contract with the first bottling entrepreneurs fixed the price of syrup rather than indexing it to the price of ingredients. As sugar prices rose, the Company began buying up bottlers in order to prevent losses.


I think the other answers are pretty much correct. It's a combination of demand and local availability. If there's an island of demand for Black Cherry Vanilla Diet Coke with Splenda, but not enough in the surrounding area, the local bottler isn't going to supply it. Some products may also be limited to retailers who meet a certain minimum sales total. In the beer world, distributors often allocate rare or limited production beers to accounts with the best sales totals for those breweries.

If you're interested in the history of Coke, there's a pretty comprehensive account in this book.
posted by HumuloneRanger at 8:47 PM on June 11, 2009

I went to Spain a few years ago and I am a drinker of diet sodas, and I found Coca Cola Lite. Now I assumed this to be the same as Diet Coke (this was before Coke Zero was announced) but Coca Cola Lite was TOTALLY DIFFERENT. It was phenominal, and that entire trip wherever I ate I had a Coca Cola Lite. Even my wife, who hates diet soda, thought Coca Cola Lite was great.

Upon returning to the states I searched in vein for Coca Cola Lite, so I contacted Coca Cola to say I wanted some and request that it be made available in the states.

Their reply was interesting. I don't have the e-mail in front of me, but it stated that different regions and countries have different tastes and as such there are different formulas of Coke products for each. They went on to state that they would pass along my word about Coca Cola Lite but there was no way for me to legally obtain it in the US (they even implied that if I ordered a case to be shipped to me from Spain it would be illegal...which I don't get).

So on an international level Coca Cola company determines what goes where, and that may even extend to regions of the US. I've noticed that in Miami there are special flavors of M&Ms (Dulce de leche) aimed at the more Hispanic populations not available in the midwest.
posted by arniec at 6:59 AM on June 12, 2009

Find some online. I"m sure a store would not mind ordering you a special order if you paid them for the order plus shipping.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:45 AM on June 12, 2009

One weird thing that can determine Coke distribution: religion.

One a related note, a few years ago I decided I wanted to cut down on the amount of caffeine I was getting, so I started buying caffeine-free Diet Cokes whenever I could find then. But I've noticed I can only find them in certain areas of town (none within a 20-minutes drive).

In Utah, most fountain drink dispensers will only have caffeine free Coke, both diet and regular. In Provo, where I lived, 88% of the overall population, and 98% of religious people, were LDS. This meant that the market for caffeine-free drinks, and the market for caffeinated soda nonexistent, hence caffeine-free Coke everywhere.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:50 AM on June 12, 2009

arniec - that's funny. When I was in Spain years ago, my host family had a major Dr. Pepper jones. They'd lived in the US for a while, had gotten used to the flavor, and couldn't find it anywhere in Spain after moving back. You'd think that a global marketplace would mean global availability of major brands, but it isn't the case...
posted by caution live frogs at 8:38 AM on June 12, 2009

Not BSing you. I work for a mid-sized gourmet food corps and distribution varies widely based on a number of factors.

1- The grocery/brokerage process is intense and tricky. If you're Coke, I imagine you can get your product on any shelf in the USA with a phone call. For us, there are sort of "auditions" and teams of people who decide what goes where.

2- Having been in charge of ordering for a few different eateries, I can tell you that in the MidWest, our Coke distributor carried about HALF the flavors of Vitamin Water that the one in New York did. This could be a corporate thing, it could be a distributor thing. Sometimes a distro. can be forced to carry a product, but very likely they're only going to carry what they can sell.

3- We definitely have regional products. Variety X does very well in the North East. It does not do so well in the South. As we have lower margins on that product, it doesn't make sense to ship and sell a product to the South when it'll take longer to move and possibly spoil.

So, yes. Regional distinction and distributor issues can very definitley make it tricky to find your favorite product.
posted by GilloD at 9:21 AM on June 12, 2009

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