“Zero sugar” has replaced “diet” for many no-calorie soft drinks. Canada Dry and Schweppes ginger ales, 7Up, A&W and Sunkist, made by Keurig Dr Pepper, now label their diet drinks “zero sugar.” (One exception is the namesake Dr Pepper brand, which will still come in “diet” packaging in addition to a different zero sugar version.)
The reason for the overhaul: The word “diet” has fallen out of fashion — especially for Millennials and Gen Z-ers.
“No Gen Z wants to be on a diet these days,” he said, adding that the company is “going to continue to innovate and support that business.”
But distaste for the word diet doesn’t signal an aversion to no-calorie beverages. The diet soda segment, which includes diet and zero-calorie branded drinks, has ballooned since it first hit the mainstream in the 1960s. In 2020, the US retail diet carbonated soft drink market hit $11.2 billion, according to Mintel, a market research company.
The segment is still far smaller than the market for regular carbonated soft drinks, which was $28.2 billion in 2020, but it’s growing much more quickly. Diet soda sales are up about 19.5% from 2018, compared to just 8.4% for regular soda in the same period, making it an attractive segment for soda makers seeking growth.
Evolving attitudes toward dieting as a concept mean soda makers have to de-emphasize diet branding as they steam ahead with zero-sugar offerings — even when, as in the case of those brands owned by Keurig Dr Pepper, they’re selling the same exact drink.
The tactic could help soda makers bring more consumers, especially younger ones, into the fold. The industry needs those customers if it wants to grow the soda market.
The birth of diet colas
Diet drinks first became popular in the 1960s.
Diet Rite, a no-calorie drink from the 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 piece for Jezebel.
“It was first stocked among medicines rather than soft drinks, but focus soon shifted to the growing number of weight loss dieters nationwide,” she wrote. Diet Rite was a hit, prompting Coca-Cola to introduce Tab in 1963, and Pepsi to start selling Diet Pepsi a year later.
The segment gained steam in the following years. Looking to expand beyond Tab, Coca-Cola launched Diet Coke in 1982.
At the time, Coca-Cola was facing many of the same challenges it is fighting today: It needed to reinvigorate the Coca-Cola brand, and thought adding a Coke-branded diet option could help.
A company blog post detailing the launch of Diet Coke noted that “colas accounted for 60% of all soft drink sales in the US back then, but diets were growing three times faster than the rest of the category. Diet Coke was seen as the right product for the right time.”
The company grappled with what to name the product. It considered using the moniker “sugar free” instead of diet, but “many saw it as a slur on Coca-Cola’s main ingredient,” according to the post. …….