NEW YORK — Don’t expect The Coca-Cola Co. to follow rival PepsiCo in reformulating its diet brand to reverse an industry-wide sales decline in diet carbonated soft drinks. The Atlanta-based beverage company told analysts during a May 12 presentation at the Goldman Sachs Global Staples Forum in New York that its consumers don’t want Coca-Cola to tweak the ingredients.
“Our view is that Diet Coke’s principle equity is great taste,” said Sandy Douglas, president of Coca-Cola North America. “We’re going to be very careful before we change the taste of it. We follow the consumer. The consumer’s telling us, ‘don’t change Diet Coke; we love it just the way it is,’ but at the same time there is a lot of junk science and alarmism around low- and no-calorie sweeteners that we have to address, and most importantly we have to ask third parties to help us address it because in the end low- or no-calorie sweeteners are 100% safe. We would never sell an ingredient in one of our products that wasn’t safe.”
Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo announced in April plans to replace aspartame in Diet Pepsi products with a blend of sucralose and acesulfame potassium. The reformulated beverages, which include Diet Pepsi, Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi and Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi, will be available beginning in August. The company said it developed the new sweetener formulation after extensive research and testing with consumers in the United States, who are increasingly avoiding aspartame and other artificial ingredients.
“I think the big picture there is diet products and frozen products have really suffered over the past few years, and particularly diet frozen products,” Mr. Douglas said. “There is a consumer flight to fresh, which is a good thing… but that’s impacted things that are called ‘diet’ and things that are frozen.
“Diet Coke is a terrific brand. And I keep saying it’s a work in progress, but the reason why I say that is that we don’t have the revenue growing. It is better… its decline has moderated, but that’s not the picture of success.”
Rather than reformulate its diet drinks, Coca-Cola said it will educate consumers about the safety of artificial sweeteners.“We will continue to work on a number of loyalty tactics and other programs that help consumers get more value out of Diet Coke,” Mr. Douglas said. “And it’s my view that Diet Coke will start to grow revenue again. And as it relates to what our competitors doing, that’s what makes our industry great, and we'll see how that goes.”