Coca-Cola Life combines sugar with stevia, a plant extract that’s much sweeter than sugar.

With less kilojoules, less sugar and less trademark red packaging, Coca-Cola's new Life drink, sweetened with plant extract stevia, will arrive in New Zealand next year.

The Herald was invited to try the new green-canned, caffeinated soda in a secret tasting yesterday, ahead of the April launch of the product here.

Shipped from the UK, the sample cans of Coca-Cola Life were not allowed to leave the room at the New Zealand headquarters of the global soft drink giant in Mt Wellington.

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Coke Life is sweetened with both sugar and stevia, a plant extract that is between 250 and 300 times sweeter than sugar and that health experts have credited as enabling consumers to cut sugar from their diets.

Sugar is widely regarded as a health hazard that contributes to obesity, type-2 diabetes as well as dental decay.

Professor Boyd Swinburn, the University of Auckland's professor of population nutrition and global health, said the new drink was a step in the right direction to addressing the effects of sugar on New Zealanders.

"I think this is Coca-Cola obviously responding to the current obesity and dental care epidemics ... it is a small step in the right direction and it is one that is probably not made that doesn't affect their business model very much, it might even enhance it."

However, he said the only effective way to combat the detrimental impacts of sugary soft drinks was to introduce government legislation.

"I don't think it should be mistaken as what is needed for major action around sweetened, sugary beverages in this country.

"There are already lots of healthy alternatives around ... so this is probably not going to make a huge difference."

Professor Swinburn, who is part of national anti-sugary drink advocacy group Fizz, said New Zealand needed to adopt the World Health Organisation recommendations to truly tackle the issue, including introducing a tax on sugary drinks.

Coca-Cola Amatel New Zealand marketing general manager Delina Shields said the new product was developed in response to a growing demand for less sugary drinks.

"Research has told us that there is a good group of consumers who are really interested in reducing their sugar," she said.

"We are always listening to consumers and one of the things they have told is they want a product sweetened from natural sources and they are unwilling to compromise on taste and Coca-Cola Life delivers all of this."

The new drink, already released in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Great Britain and the US, will become a permanent fixture in Coke's range here and will be available throughout the country.

Blind Taste Test

Bubbly, syrupy and sweet: Three very simple properties, yet the task of trying to differentiate among the four unmarked glasses of black caffeinated soda in front of me is surprisingly daunting.

Before the blind taste test began, under the watchful eyes of three Coca-Cola executives guarding their products, I sampled each of the four beverages in Coke's New Zealand range to gauge the difference among the samples.

After sipping each of the varietals - imagine a low-spec wine tasting - I narrowed the glasses into what I thought were two groups: One was either regular Coke or Coke Zero and the other was either Coke Life or Diet Coke.

When I removed the labels stuck underneath the glasses, I saw that I had correctly distinguished the original recipe Coke, with its thicker syrupy taste, from its artificially sweetened, Zero-kilojoule cousin.

The last two glasses, Life and Diet, definitely tasted drier but it was harder to pin down their exact identities.

Wary of over analysing the exercise (and aware I lacked the experience to be considered a Coke connoisseur), I ignored my first instinct, and instead of choosing Life based on its lighter-tasting flavour I chose the drink that looked the bubbliest.