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Flat Coca-Cola seeks a coffee pick-me-up

Coca-Cola is working on a radical new flavour for the world's favourite soft drink - coffee.

The Atlanta-based giant is developing a new variation on the iconic brand to pep up flagging sales. A coffee version could be on sale in the US and Europe by next year. The Coca-Cola Company has already registered three potential brand names for the drink - Coca-Cola Blak, Makkio and Maquio.

Coca-Cola owns one of the leading canned coffee brands in the world, Georgia Coffee. This is particularly successful in Japan, where canned instant coffee is one of the most popular soft drinks. It is drunk either at room temperature or can be heated in a microwave oven.

However, attempts to bring canned coffee to a mass market in Europe have not been a success. Consumers here prefer to buy their coffee hot from cafés or chains such as Starbucks.

Although Coca-Cola would not comment about its plans for the new product, a spokesman said: "We are always exploring further brand innovations."

The company has set up a special unit to bring fresh ideas into the product line. It is being headed by Mary Minnick, former president of its Asia division, and reports to Coca-Cola's head of marketing, Chuck Fruit.

Coca-Cola is currently preparing to launch its new no-calorie drink, Coca-Cola Zero, and has tried to hype this by auctioning a sample on eBay.

It will be hoping the launch goes better than its previous brand extension, the mid-calorie drink C2. This has not been as successful in the US as hoped, and may not now be launched in Europe.

In the UK, Coca-Cola has pinned its hopes on a lemon- flavoured variant, which may be launched in other territories shortly.

The company has been performing sluggishly in recent years but its newly appointed chief executive, Neville Isdell, who aims to rekindle Coca-Cola's reputation for innovation and successful marketing.