Pepsi Responds to Calls for Healthier Soda

April 24th 2015

PepsiCo announced Friday that it would remove artificial sweetener aspartame from its Diet Pepsi products following immense pressure from health-conscious consumers. Diet Pepsi will be replacing aspartame with sucralose, the artificial sweetener in Splenda. Aspartame is around 200 times sweeter than sugar and found in Diet Coke, Coke Zero, and Schweppes Diet Lemonade.

"Diet cola drinkers in the U.S. told us they wanted aspartame-free Diet Pepsi and we're delivering," Seth Kaufman, senior vice-president of the Pepsi TM & Flavors Portfolio, said in a statement.

Diet Coke, meanwhile, won't be ditching aspartame from its own products. "There are currently no plans to change the sweetener for Diet Coke, America's favorite no-calorie soft drink," Coca-Cola spokesman Scott Williamson wrote in an email to the Chicago Tribune. "All of the beverages we offer and ingredients we use are safe."

The Food, Drug and Administration (FDA) considers aspartame safe, but the sweetener has drawn criticism over the years for potentially causing negative health effects, but a PepsiCo executive said in a statement that the sweetener is a perfectly safe additive, "[W]hile decades of studies show aspartame is safe, we recognize that consumer demand is evolving."

Soda sales are falling

The soda industry has been in trouble for a while. According to Reuters, PepsiCo's net revenue dropped 3.2 percent in the first quarter of 2015, and Diet Coke sales plunged six percent in that same period.

PepsiCo's aspartame abandonment comes a few weeks after a Beverage Digest report revealed some devastating statistics for the soda industry. The findings showed a 29-year low in soda consumption, and fellow soda industry tracker Beverage Marketing also discovered that Americans drank only 12.76 billion gallons of soda in 2014. While soda consumption declined, bottled water sales went up, according to the Beverage Marketing findings. Because sugar is already connected to obesity, which is already a huge problem in the U.S., soda doesn't look so appealing to the American consumer, especially with the myriad of flavored water options going strong on the market.

Not only do many of these products taste good, but they contain fewer calories and are better sources of hydration. On top of its dietary shortcomings, soda can also wreak havoc on dental health. A 2013 report from General Dentistry concluded that years of diet soda consumption is can be as harmful to the teeth as years of cocaine or meth usage. Acid wears down the tooth enamel, making teeth more likely to develop cavities, cracks, or discoloration. The greater picture isn't a pretty sight and exchanging one artificial sweetener for another isn't going to change some of the major, well-documented health downsides of soda consumption.

Beverage company TalkingRain, a bubbly flavored water distributor, has experienced massive success as a result of consumers swapping high calorie sodas for the company's zero-calorie drinks. “There’s a large market out there that wants something sparkling, something flavored, something without a controversial sweetener, and we hit that market,” CEO Kevin Klock told the New York Times in 2013.

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