01/27/2015 03:09 EST | Updated 03/29/2015 05:59 EDT

Coke cuts sweetness in Canada to save calories

Coca-Cola is slightly reducing the sweetness of its famous beverage in Canada as it faces demand from consumers for soft drinks with fewer calories.

The beverage giant says it is reducing the concentration of its syrup to the same level of sweetness that Coke has in the rest of the world – a move that it says will lower the calorie count of Coke in its cans and bottles by eight per cent.

The company emphasized that it's just making Cole slightly less sweet, not changing its underlying recipe.

That's perhaps an effort to reassure consumers that it isn't embarking on the same kind of drastic reformulation that saw "New Coke" fizzle when it was introduced back in 1985. The company quickly reversed course and brought back its original formula, branding it "Coca-Cola Classic."

Production of the less sweet Coke began Tuesday. The new product will roll out across the country in the coming weeks and months.

Reducing bottle size

In addition, Coca-Cola Canada says it will reduce its most popular "immediate consumption package size" by 15 per cent. That means the end of its 591 ml bottle, replaced by a 500 ml bottle. 

It also plans to boost the availability of its smaller mini-cans (222 ml) and small glass bottles (237 ml).

"These new initiatives are the latest in Coca-Cola Canada's efforts to reduce the overall beverage calories in the Canadian diet and to provide consumers with information and resources to lead active, balanced lifestyles," the company said in a statement.

Marvin Ryder, a marketing expert at McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business, says this likely won't be the last announcement of this kind from soft drink makers.

"I think both Coke and Pepsi will be doing more about reducing sizes, giving people less soft drink, and looking at the sweetness level, giving you more variety at less sweetness," he told CBC News.

Sales boost?

Soft-drink companies have been under growing pressure to lower the calories counts in their products. A worldwide increase in obesity rates, especially among children, has prompted widespread concern.

John Sicher, editor of Beverage Digest, said he doubted the small sweetness reduction would result in a significant boost to sales.

"I think the calorie reduction is very modest," he said. "I think that to get people to buy product because of a calorie reduction, a company needs to get down to a 40 or 50 per cent calorie reduction at the very least, like the new products Pepsi True and Coke Life, which are sugar/stevia products."

Sicher said makers of carbonated beverages need to work on sweetener innovation. "The holy grail is a cola with a natural sweetener with much lower calories."