As Coca-Cola Jumps Into Cannabis Beverages, Can It Shake Off Its Unhealthy Image?
131 years after its creation, Coca-Cola is eyeing the cannabis industry with plans to move beyond sugar with CBD beverages made in partnership with Aurora Cannabis, a company considered one of the largest in-progress distributors in Canada. Aurora describes itself as a curator of certified ingredient products, including dried cannabis, milled buds, cannabis oil concentrates, and “frost” (likely to be powders), from a network of contracted producers.
With double-digit industry growth over the past few years, the cannabis industry offers a lucrative market for aging corporate giants like Coca-Cola. Coke would be far from the first to put infused THC and CBD in its beverages. Corona beer brewer, Constellation Brands, recently announced that it would increase its stake in cannabis distributor Canopy Growth Corp (CGC) by $3.8 billion, but CGC stock is down over 20% from its high in early September.
Heineken’s Lagunitas brand recently launched a beer-flavored sparkling water infused with cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Molson Coors, Dirty Lemon, Sprig, Dixie Elixirs, Keef Cola, and Kickback also manufacture CBD drinks derived from hemp and marijuana.
Along with AB-InBev (formerly Anheuser-Busch), the $196-billion Coca-Cola empire will require major shifts to appeal to health-conscious consumers. Because of its lingering brand problems and stigma as an unhealthy company, Coke is expected to launch or acquire a new, wholly-owned brand for its cannabis-infused CBD products. If they take a page out of AB-InBev’s playbook, they will maintain the appearance of having family-owned craft brands under multiple names while attempting to push out small-business competitors.
Despite the growing cannabis opportunity and recognition by 94% of the world’s population, Coca-Cola will have a number of hurdles to clear as it cleans up its brand.
Liquid Chemical Cola: Not Just a Liquid Candy
As awareness spreads for the health problems associated with popular sodas, sugar prices have plummeted since 2011 to nearly a third of their peak value. Likewise, soda sales for both PepsiCo and Coca Cola have fallen to 30-year lows. Too much sugar, especially from non-organic sources that heavily depend on synthetic pesticides, has increasingly been linked to obesity, diabetes, and cancer progression. A regular can of Coke contains 39 g of sugar, more than 12 times the amount in a typical hard candy, and none of it comes from organic sugarcane fields.
Doctors have confirmed that aspartame and artificial sweeteners also pose serious chronic toxicity problems. Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi have been the biggest losers as consumers learn about the negative health effects and dependency risk associated with sugar substitutes such as aspartame. Aspartame is known as an excitotoxin, which causes human neurons to fire spasmodically, eventually burning them out . Research studies show that can lead to lower serotonin levels and painful, debilitating headaches after withdrawing from regular consumption, and some sufferers have experienced potentially fatal seizures after drinking aspartame regularly for years.
Phosphoric acid (E338), not to mention the BPA and possibly carcinogenic dyes, in Coca-Cola drinks has also raised concerns. The acid acts as a preservative by making colas more acidic than vinegar while simultaneously giving them a distinct taste. But the industrial acid can do much more: a quick video search turns up evidence of Coke’s ability to remove rust from old steel parts. “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows how phosphoric acid chemically robs the bones [of minerals and nutrients], lowering human bone density. Furthermore, it's been linked to kidney stones and kidney disease” reports Natural News .
It has been over 100 years since Coca-Cola removed cocaine from its secret formula. Will the company remove phosphoric acid and aspartame?
As Coca-Cola’s reputation worsened, it hired doctors and scientific researchers to perform biased studies that would make their soft drinks look healthy again. News reports after the Great Recession brought attention to the company’s bribery of physicians through grants “to develop educational material to teach consumers about the role beverages and sweeteners can play in a healthy, active lifestyle” (from AAFP’s Lori Heim).
The corporate goliath also has a troubled international history of extorting store owners with its monopolistic power in order to keep away competitors. It was fined for blocking out Big Cola in Mexico in the early 2000s, but the practice of anti-competitive tactics against shop owners continues, keeping consumers hostage with few alternative choices (despite the presence of many subsidiary brands) at conventional stores.
In 2008, the company paid a $137.5 million fine for engaging in fraudulent activities to artificially inflate its stock price by channel-stuffing. More recently, a top science executive was forced to resign for intentionally skewing scientific results to deceive the public about Coca-Cola’s health effects. The list of shady business practices goes on.
It’s hard to say whether all of the smiling people in Coca-Cola’s ads and their addition of CBD beverages can save the giant soda brand. A massive amount of financial backing can go a long way.
Northspur wishes the best to those who play fair and respect humanity.