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Coke targets ‘foodies’ as it tries to revive soda sales

CANDICE CHOI
The Associated Press

NEW YORK — What beverage goes best with lobster rolls, a bagel sandwich stuffed with whitefish, or a bowl of ramen? Coke wants you to think of soda.

Coca-Cola is trying to sell more of its flagship beverage by suggesting the cola can accompany a wide range of meals, rather than just the fast food and pizza with which it’s a mainstay. It’s why a recent TV ad featured a young couple grabbling mini-Cokes while making paella, and why food bloggers were paid to post photos on Instagram of various dishes, paired specifically with glass bottles of Coke that might appeal to the aesthetic of “foodie” culture. One photo showed a bowl of chicken chili with the soda.

Although Coke has often been marketed as a good companion for food, the company is trying to make sure it isn’t left behind as American tastes evolve and people move away from traditional sodas.

“It’s an Amateur Move to Limit Coca-Cola to Fast-Food,” stated an online ad paid for by Coke on Vox Media sites. The post, which was designed to read like a news story, talked about famous food pairings and how tastes like Coca-Cola “go with everything.” A digital video series with Univision also showed people enjoying Cokes with a variety of meals, including sushi.

The push comes as Coke faces growing competition in the beverage aisle, as well as criticism over its marketing of sugary drinks. U.S. sales volume for regular Coke is down

14 percent over the past decade,

according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest, while Diet Coke’s volume is down 29 percent.

Coca-Cola is trying to shore up its flagship brand in the U.S. The strat-egy has been to reposition Coke as a more premium drink with packaging like mini-cans and glass bottles. That dovetails with the company’s efforts to hitch the cola to a foodie culture that prizes photogenic qualities.

People associate Coke with pizza and burgers because those pairings are now part of U.S. culture, but also because they actually go well together, said John Fischer, a professor of wine, beverage and hospitality at the Culinary Institute of America. He disagrees with the premise that Coke goes well “with everything,” as the Coke ad contends.

“Coke is a fairly powerful flavor — it could obliterate more delicate

flavors,” Fischer said.