“Diet cola drinkers in the US told us they wanted aspartame-free Diet Pepsi and we’re delivering,” stated Seth Kaufman, SVP Pepsi and Flavors Portfolio, PepsiCo North America Beverages. “We recognize that consumer demand is evolving and we’re confident that cola-lovers will enjoy the crisp, refreshing taste of this new product.”
“Aspartame is the No. 1 reason consumers are dropping diet soda,” Kaufman added, noting that in consumer taste tests, people still recognized the reformulated drink to be Diet Pepsi but that it might have a “slightly different mouthfeel.”
As Bloomberg commented, “PepsiCo is getting the jump on Diet Coke, the country’s No. 1 sugar-free soda, in removing the controversial sweetener. Consumers have been backing away from both brands in recent years, fearful that the lab-created sweetener may cause cancer. The US Food and Drug Administration has said there is no proof of a health risk from aspartame.”
To that last point, in November the FDA “denied two citizen-petitions aimed at banning the use of aspartame, stating the petitions failed to supply data that demonstrated the consumption of the ingredient posed a health threat to consumers,” BevNet reported.
Now aspartame is ingredient non grata for PepsiCo, with Diet Pepsi, Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi and Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi to be sweetened instead with a blend of artificial sweeteners sucralose and acesulfame potassium in the US starting this summer.
The “better for you” move could help boost customer appreciation for the Pepsi brand. As Beverage Digest reported in its annual soda giants year-end ranking, Pepsi regained the No. 2 spot in the US in 2014, reclaiming the slot behind regular Coke from former No. 2 Diet Coke.
Diet Pepsi held 4.3 percent of the total carbonated soft drink market in the US last year, although its volume shrank 5.2 percent from a year earlier as customers reduced consumption of diet drinks including Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi and Diet Mt. Dew. “At this point, all use aspartame or a blend with aspartame,” Beverage Digest commented.
PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi addressed consumers’ evolving views on diet sodas in yesterday’s quarterly earnings call with analysts, noting that the old definition of “good for you” food and beverages is changing, particularly among millennials:
We’ve never seen the consumer as confused as they are today. And I use the word confused in a neutral way, not a negative way. If you had asked me a few years ago people were moving to diet sodas. Now they view real sugar as Good for You. They are willing to go to organic non-GMO products even if it has high salt, high sugar, high-fat. So I think we have a challenge these days to really think about what is the definition of Good for You from a consumer perspective. And this is unprecedented and the old definition of Good for You is being challenged right now. So I think the best way to think about this is to think about the fruit and vegetable corridor, a protein corridor, a grains corridor and then sort of a predominantly carb corridor.
And then within that (we want to) just vary our strategy based on what the consumer is thinking about because—especially—millennials today have got very different definitions of Good for You versus Fun for You. They don’t really make the definition in the difference (and) they’re looking much more to ingredients. So we are also going through a little change in our thinking. The good news is whatever the segmentation is, our portfolio is still balanced and we can actually flex to either definition. So, we are managing the business by watching both.