Monday, December 17, 2012

Diet Pepsi quietly making a sweet switch

Sofia Vergara in sales mode.
Many people I know swear by "diet" soft drinks, usually ordering one after requesting a Big Mac, large fries and gooey apple pie at their favorite Golden Arches venue.

Me, I never drink them for two simple reasons: (1.) I don't like the aftertaste of any of them, and (2.) I don't trust the additives.

In my lifetime, we've gone the "diet" route from not adding sugar or corn sweeteners, to adding saccharine, to adding aspartame, to delivering a combination of artificial sweeteners.

PepsiCo Inc., the maker of Diet Pepsi, has -- with little if any fanfare -- tweaked the sweetener in that particular beverage in advance of unveiling a rebranding campaign next month.

Cans of Diet Pepsi found on shelves in New York State, Omaha, NE, and the San Francisco Bay area now list a mix of two artificial sweeteners, something commonly found in newer brands of diet sodas. Diet Pepsi had been using only aspartame.

The change, which will impact all markets, is an interesting one. PepsiCo as recently as this summer declined to comment when asked by news media whether reports it had been experimenting with a sweetener mix meant it would go ahead with the change.

The idea of mixing aspartame and acesulfame potassium (*) helps keep the drink's sweetening power at a constant level, making it taste fresh longer. It does not change the flavor.

PepsiCo said in a statement released Sunday it is adding a "very small amount" of acesulfame potassium "to ensure consistency with every sip." The sweeteners used in Diet Pepsi vary depending on the region of the world.

The sweetener change will not be explicitly communicated in the ads, which will feature actress Sofia Vergara (TV's "Modern Family"). But then, most people I know don't listen to Sofia, they just look at her, so she could be saying Diet Pepsi "now contains formaldehyde" (I'd love to hear her pronounce that!) and we wouldn't know it.

Diet Pepsi ranks No. 7 in sales among carbonated soft drink with 4.9% of the market, according to Beverage Digest. That is a drop from 5.3% in 2000. In the same period, category leader Diet Coke's share went up, from 8.7% to 9.6%. Diet Coke, which still uses only aspartame as a sweetener, is the Mo. 2 soda brand behind only regular Coke. It overtook regular Pepsi for the No. 2 slot in 2010.

[ * Acesulfame potassium is a calorie-free compound that is 200 times sweeter to the taste than sugar. It has been used in a large variety of foods and beverages in the U.S. since 1988. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared it safe for all segments of the population.]

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