“Diet” soda disappears from store shelves

As you work your way down the soda aisle, you may notice the word “diet” a lot less than you did before.

As you work your way down the soda aisle, you may notice the word “diet” a lot less than you did before.

That’s because some diet sodas are disappearing – or at least that packaging is gone. Instead, you’ll find these drinks under their new brand: zero sugar.

“Zero sugar” has replaced “diet” for many calorie-free soft drinks. Canada Dry and Schweppes, 7Up, A&W and Sunkist ginger sodas, manufactured by Keurig Dr Pepper, now qualify their diet drinks as “zero sugar”. (An exception is the namesake brand Dr Pepper, which will always come in “diet” packaging in addition to a different sugar-free version.)

The reason for the overhaul: The word “diet” is out of fashion, especially for Millennials and Gen Z.

“Young people just don’t like the word ‘diet,’ said Greg Lyons, marketing director for PepsiCo Beverages North America, at the Beverage Digest Future Smarts conference in December. Pepsi renamed “Pepsi Max” to “Pepsi Zero Sugar” in 2016 and has invested in its sugar-free offerings over the past year.

“No Gen Z wants to diet these days,” he said, adding that the company “will continue to innovate and support this business.”

But dislike of the word diet doesn’t signal an aversion to calorie-free drinks. The diet soda segment, which includes branded diet and calorie-free drinks, has exploded since it reached the mainstream in the 1960s. In 2020, the US retail diet sodas market reached 11.2 billion dollars, according to Mintel, a market research company.

The segment is still much smaller than the regular soft drink market, which was $ 28.2 billion in 2020, but it is growing much faster. Diet soda sales increased by around 19.5% from 2018, compared to just 8.4% for regular soda during the same period, making it an attractive segment for seeking soda makers. growth.

Changing attitudes towards weight loss as a concept means that soda makers need to put less emphasis on the diet brand as they move forward with sugar-free offerings – even when, as in the case of brands. owned by Keurig Dr Pepper, they exactly sell drink.

The tactic could help soda makers pull more consumers, especially younger ones, into the fold. The industry needs these customers if it is to develop the soda market.

The birth of dietetic colas

Diet drinks first became popular in the 1960s.

Diet Rite, a calorie-free drink from soda maker Royal Crown Cola, was launched in 1958 “as an option for diabetics and other consumers who needed to limit their sugar intake,” wrote Emily Contois, author of “Diners, Dudes. , and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture ”, in a 2020 article for Jezebel.

“It was first stored among drugs rather than carbonated drinks, but attention quickly shifted to the growing number of people dieting nationwide,” she wrote. Diet Rite was successful, prompting Coca-Cola to introduce Tab in 1963 and Pepsi to start selling Diet Pepsi a year later.

The segment gained momentum over the following years. Seeking to expand beyond Tab, Coca-Cola launched Diet Coke in 1982.

Back then, Coca-Cola faced many of the same challenges it does today: It needed to reinvigorate the Coca-Cola brand and believed that adding a Coca-branded diet option might help.

A company blog post detailing the launch of Diet Coke noted that “colas made up 60% of all soft drink sales in the United States at the time, but diets were growing three times faster than the rest. of the category. Diet Coke was seen as the right product at the right time.

The company wondered what to name the product. He considered using the nickname “sugar free” instead of diet, but “many saw it as an insult to the main ingredient in Coca-Cola,” according to the post. In the end, the company went with the “diet” because it was “the simplest articulation of the brand promise.”

But a few decades later, Coca-Cola returned to the idea of ​​a branded product that was sugar-free. This time, he wanted to attract the demographics who seemed to shy away from the company’s diet drinks: younger consumers and men.

Zero enters the scene

In 2005, Coca-Cola introduced Coke Zero to the United States. The Baltimore Sun explained at the time that “Zero’s marketing is aimed at a demographic, like the most macho young people and men, who see a stigma attached to the word diet.”

Other companies also wanted a more neutral way to advertise sugar-free products.

Eliminating the word “diet” creates a “gender-neutral way of talking about the same subject,” said Jim Watson, senior beverage analyst at Rabobank, who told CNN Business that “the diet has definitely become something for people. women”.

But the advent of sugar-free drinks was not just a gender issue – it marked a turning point in the global popularity of diet drinks. Alex Beckett, global food and beverage analyst at Mintel, said the word diet “has started to fall out of fashion … with the rise of zero.”

Billing a drink as calorie-free and sugar-free also addresses changing ideas about health and emphasizes the lack of sugar in the drink as a positive attribute in and of itself.

“While the diet designation may be associated with strict diets or deprivations, the ‘zero’ designation has fewer negative connotations, simply corresponding to a cleaner profile,” according to an April Mintel report.

For Keurig, the change seems to be working. According to Herbert Hopkins, president of cold drinks at Keurig Dr Pepper, who detailed the company’s finances on the company’s investor day in October, recent sugar-free launches alone have been to blame for a point. percentage of market share gains for the company.

Coca-Cola has also seen success with its Zero offering, which was renamed Coca-Cola Zero Sugar in 2017 and received another update this year. “The new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar recipe has been rolled out in more than 50 countries and has experienced accelerated growth over the past three months,” Coke CEO James Quincey said on a conference call with a analyst in October.

The new recipe hit shelves in the United States this summer, and since then, “we’ve seen that 23% of current Coke Zero Sugar consumers are new,” said Alex Ebanks, a spokesperson for the company, adding that Coca-Cola will continue to invest in the product next year and beyond.

The competition is heating up

As big brands focus more on their sugar-free offerings, they face competition from other categories and new ideas.

A major competitor, according to Mintel’s Beckett, is sparkling water.

“A lot of people switch from carbonated drinks to carbonated water,” he said, because these drinks often contain no sweeteners or calories, and “have a healthier image of health.”

PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have come up with their own sparkling waters to follow the trend. Coca-Cola owns Topo Chico and has a line of caffeinated sparkling water called Aha, while PepsiCo sells Bubly.

Beyond sparkling water, competitors are entering space with new rotations on sodas. For example: Sodas that promote gut health.

Olipop, a startup that says it’s making “a new kind of soda,” sells retro flavors like classic root beer, vintage cola, and more. The sodas, which range from around 35 to 50 calories each, are made with a blend of ingredients like Jerusalem artichoke and cassava root that the company says promotes digestive health. Poppi, which also sells traditional soda flavors in addition to fruit flavors, makes a similar statement, sporting a “for a healthy gut” label on the front of her brightly colored cans.

“Consumers vote with our wallets, and sugar is something people definitely want less of in our lives,” said Danny Stepper, CEO of LA Libations, a beverage business incubator. “It opens the door to a lot of opportunities and categories,” he said. “Consumers want new things, which opens the door to new ideas. “

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