I’m not impressed with the “new & improved” taste of new Coke Zero Sugar, Coca-Cola’s replacement for Coke Zero. I brought some home to taste-test, after I found stacks of it at the grocery store next to a few remaining bottles of Coke Zero bottles. Alert: if you’re stockpiling the old Coke Zero, get it NOW as it looks like it’s going fast!
After sipping side-by-side bottles of the old and new formulas, I found that they are pretty similar. But to me, Coke Zero Sugar is a bit less sweet and flavorful. The folks at Coca-Cola say that Coke Zero Sugar is closer to the taste of the standard Coca-Cola. But it simply reminded me of what I dislike about Diet Coke.
Why fix something that’s not broken? Coke Zero sales actually GREW by 3.5 percent in 2016, according to Beverage Digest. After its rollout in 2005, Coca Cola hailed Coke Zero as its most successful product launch since Diet Coke in 1982. So why did Coca-Cola decide to re-formulate the already popular Coke Zero, which is already sugar-free, and call it Coca-Cola Zero Sugar? Supposedly the reason was to make it taste more like regular Coca-Cola, but sugar-free. I thought Coke Zero already did that.
I thought the marketing point of Coke Zero was a no-calorie soft drink without the “diet” stigma — something that would attract the guys, with its black packaging and use of the term “Zero” instead of “Diet.” Calling it “Zero Sugar” makes it sound wimpy and redundant.
Apparently, today’s Coca-Cola execs weren’t around during the disastrous roll-out of “New Coke” back in 1985. Due to fan backlash, the “classic” formula was restored. And what about clear-colored Crystal Pepsi, which failed to catch on in the 1990s after a huge marketing campaign? It’s been brought back a couple of times as a limited-time retro product, but that’s about it. Vitamin-spiked 7-UP Plus and Diet Coke Plus never gained much traction in the 2000s. Pepsi faced a backlash in 2015 when it switched out the aspartame sweetener in Diet Pepsi for sucralose. Clearly, it’s risky to mess with a soft drink that’s already well-established.
I don’t drink soda pop every day, so maybe I’m not the core fan base here. But I probably drink a Coke Zero every couple of days. Years ago, I was a fan of Tab, Coca-Cola’s first diet soft drink. But, I had pretty much given up cola drinks due to the caffeine content. Then about five years ago when I was visiting an old friend in Hurricane, Utah, she offered me some Coke Zero. To me, it has a sweeter, stronger flavor than Diet Coke, with a hint of warm spiciness, maybe cinnamon or nutmeg, and less chemical taste. It’s sweetened with a combination of aspartame and acesulfame potassium. I like the bottled version better than the canned, although my grocery store sells caffeine-free Coke Zero in cans only. When I buy Coke Zero at self-serve soda fountain, the strength and flavor varies a lot, depending on the convenience store. I personally think Maverik’s drinks are less watered-down, and I like being able to add a wedge of lime and a squirt of coconut flavoring. I always avoid drinking caffeinated soft drinks after 1 p.m., because I have a hard time getting to sleep. (I guess I’m pretty sensitive to its effects. Imagine how hard it would be to sleep if I regularly drank coffee, or energy drinks, which have the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee.)
Maybe Coke Zero’s formula change is a good thing for me; it may spur me to quit drinking soda pop altogether.
The new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is still packaged mostly in black, but with the iconic red Coca-Cola disc. The ingredient list is exactly the same as Coke Zero’s, but the company says it has tweaked the “blend of flavors.” The beverage has already been rolled out successfully in 25 other countries.
Today, it’s hip to sip. The grocery aisles are awash juice blends, energy drinks, green nutrition drinks, sparkling water, bottled water and so on. Soft drinks have a lot more competition that they used to, and I guess their makers are trying to come up with ways to stay ahead of the market.
DIET SODA HISTORY: TAB, DIET RITE COLA, AND FIZZIES
Most people probably don’t know — or don’t remember — that before Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, Tab was a reigning diet soft drink during the 1960s. Here’s some history:
First there were Fizzies, flavored Alka-Seltzer-like tablets that were dropped in water, first launched in 1957. Although they weren’t touted as a “diet” drink, Fizzies used a synthetic sweetener called cyclamates. By 1968, Fizzies exceeded Kool-Aid in sales. But the carbonated bubbles soon burst, because Fizzies used an artificial sweetener called cyclamates. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, concerned that a byproduct of cyclamates caused chromosome damage in male rats, banned cyclamates in 1969. Fizzies soon fizzled out.
Royal Crown Cola placed an announcement in an Atlanta newspaper in 1958 announcing a diet product, Diet Rite. It created a huge sensation, and in the early ’60s it was the No. 4 cola in America.
In 1962, Dr Pepper released a diet(etic) version of its soft drink, although it sold slowly due to the misconception that it was meant solely for diabetic consumption.
In 1963, Coca-Cola unveiled Tab.
Diet 7 Up was released in 1963 under the name Like. It was discontinued in 1969 due to the U.S. government ban of cyclamate sweetener. After reformulation, it was reintroduced as Diet 7 Up in 1970.
Pepsi begins test-marketing Patio Diet Cola in 1963, and renames it Diet Pepsi. In 1966, the brand gets a big boost from its “Girlwatchers” ad campaign. “The girls girl-watchers watch, drink Diet Pepsi,” was the tag line.
In 1966, Coca-Cola launched Fresca, a citrus-flavored no-calorie drink. It’s still on the market.
The 1969 cyclamates ban affected all these diet drinks, as companies had to use saccharin, with its chemical aftertaste, as a sweetener.
In 1980, Royal Crown introduced the first caffeine-free diet cola, RC-100. Once again, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and others played catch-up, giving us the caffeine-free colas we have today.
In 1983, aspartame (trademark name: Nutra-Sweet) was approved for use in soft drinks. It seemed more palatable to soda drinkers, although critics have blamed it for all kinds of health issues.
Acesulfame potassium (also known as Ace-K) first received FDA approval for use in soft drinks in 1998, after Europe had been using it for many years. Usually, Ace-K is combined with another sweetener such as aspartame.
In 2000, Diet-Rite was reformulated to replace aspartame with a combination of Splenda brand sucralose and Sunett brand Acesulfame potassium. It became the first major diet soda in the United States to use neither aspartame nor saccharin as a sweetener.
In 2015, Diet Pepsi was reformulated with a blend of sucralose and acesulfame potassium. The company felt that health-conscious consumers were trying to avoid the sweetener, aspartame, as sales of Diet Pepsi had dropped by roughly 35% over the past decade. But the new formula created a backlash among those who preferred the old aspartame-based formula. In 2016, Pepsi announced that it was bringing back the aspartame formula, and calling it Diet Pepsi Classic Sweetener Blend.