Coke Zero is zeroing out in the U.S., to be replaced by Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, which contains the exact same artificial sweeteners — aspartame and acesulfame K — but is said to taste more like regular Coca-Cola which, actually, might be called Coca-Cola Zero Real Sugar since it is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. But that’s another story.
Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is already on the shelves in Great Britain, Mexico and more than 25 other markets around the world and volume sales have grown by double digits globally year-to-date, with the strongest growth in Europe and Latin America, according to the news release announcing the “new recipe [that] tastes like a Coke with zero sugar and zero calories.”
“It is a reinvention of Coke Zero... it is about helping the zero-calorie part of the portfolio grow,” new CEO James Quincey told reporters and analysts on a conference call monitored by Reuters’ Sruthi Ramakrishnan.
Suffice it to say that the decision is controversial.
The hed over Jay Willis’ piece for GQ may be a tad over the top — “Coke Zero Is Gone Because We Live in a Grim Dystopia in Which Nothing Good Can Exist” — but a scan of the more than two dozen reactions to the Wall Street Journal’s coverage indicates that Coke Zero has staunch fans, soft drinks sweetened by anything have ardent detractors and perhaps it was not the best choice of a name.
The WSJ’s Jennifer Maloney addresses that latter point in her story, in fact.
“The Zero Sugar name is intended to better communicate to consumers that it contains no sugar. But Susan Cantor, chief executive of branding firm Red Peak, which isn’t involved with the new Coke product, said some shoppers may find it confusing,” she writes.
“Sugar is a bad word these days, so I question their thought process in putting it so prominently on the package,” Cantor tells Maloney. “This could possibly call attention to the very ingredient that they have eliminated.”
Meanwhile, count GQ’s Willis as one of those diehards who like their Coke Zero just the way it has been since its introduction in 2005. “If anyone needs me, I will be spending the day visiting every big-box store in a ten-mile radius while wiping tears from my eyes and buying as many containers of Coke Zero as my car can carry,” he writes. “… Coke Zero is a perfect soda, and it's being cruelly ripped from our collective arms with barely a week's notice.”
He won’t be the only one hoarding Coke Zero out there, according to a compilation of tweets by the Luis Gomez for the San Diego Union-Tribune. One Oklahoma attorney has even opened a Kickstarter campaign to fund his acquisition spree.
But diet sodas have not been faring well in general.
“Between 2005 and 2016, American consumption … dropped more than 27%, according to Beverage Digest data published by Business Insider. Of all the losses in the soft-drink category since 2010, 94% have come from diet soda,” Caitlin Dewey reports for the Washington Post.
“In recent years, the most afflicted brands were Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke. The reasons for the decline of diet are many, though most analysts suspect the root lies in growing consumer skepticism of artificial sweeteners,” Dewey continues.
The most recent blow was a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal a couple of weeks ago that people who drink one or more artificially sweetened beverages a day “had a higher risk for health issues like weight gain, obesity, diabetes and heart disease,” as Alexandra Sifferlin reports for Time.
The Calorie Control Council, the industry’s trade group, disputes that conclusion, as you probably guessed, stating that “obesity cannot be generalized” and other factors that plays a role in the national health crises, including a “a sedentary lifestyle.”
Oh, and by the way, Coca-Cola beat Wall Street’s expectations even though its second-quarter profit of $1.37 billion was down from $3.45 billion a year ago. It cited its “holistic revenue growth” and the expansion of its “consumer-centric portfolio” in the news release. “We gained value share in sparkling soft drinks; juice, dairy, and plant-based beverages; and tea and coffee” and says it remains on track to introduce more than 500 products this year “and also ‘lifting and shifting’ existing brands into new markets.”
Groovy times in Atlanta, it seems.