‘Diet’ Sodas Morph to ‘Zero Sugar’

Consumers don’t go on diets these days.

December 15, 2021

Zero Sugar Coke

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The word “diet” no longer resonates with consumers, particularly millennials and Gen Z, so beverage companies are dropping the term from its branding, reports CNN.

“Zero sugar” has replaced “diet” for no-calorie sodas, with brands such as Coke, Canada Dry and Schweppes ginger ales, 7Up, A&W and Sunkist all using the phrase.

However, consumers are not discouraged by the word “diet.” In 2020, the U.S. retail diet carbonated soft drink market hit $11.2 billion, according to Mintel, a market research company, and diet soda sales are up about 19.5% from 2018, compared to just 8.4% for regular soda in the same period.

"Younger people just don't like the word 'diet,’" said Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer at PepsiCo Beverages North America, during the Beverage Digest Future Smarts conference in December. "No Gen Z wants to be on a diet these days."

Coca-Cola was an innovator in the “zero sugar” movement with the introduction of Coke Zero in 2005.

The "marketing is geared to a demographic, such as young people and the most macho of men, who see a stigma attached to the word diet," wrote the Baltimore Sun back in 2005.

Coke Zero has since rebranded Coke Zero to Coca-Cola Zero Sugar in 2017 and then changed the recipe in 2021.

"Coca-Cola Zero Sugar's new recipe has rolled out in more than 50 countries and has had accelerated growth in the last three months," said Coke CEO James Quincey during an analyst call in October.

The new recipe arrived on shelves in the U.S. this summer, and since then "we have seen that 23% of current Coke Zero Sugar consumers are new," said Alex Ebanks, a spokesperson for the company, to CNN, adding that Coca-Cola will continue to invest in the product next year and beyond.

Zero sugar drinks have stiff competition in sparkling water. Sparkling water is a top competitor for the carbonated soft drink category, growing 13.7% in dollar sales during the 52 weeks ended Aug. 8, IRI data indicate. According to Caleb Bryant, associate director of food and drink reports for Mintel, the segment isn’t saturated yet, as consumers gravitate toward its variety of flavors and its “healthier-for-you” perception.

Coca-Cola continues to expand its sparkling water portfolio with Topo Chico and has a line of caffeinated sparkling water called Aha, while PepsiCo sells Bubly.

The latest sparkling water trend is one that promotes gut health. Olipop, a startup that says it makes "a new kind of soda," sells throwback flavors like classic root beer, vintage cola and others that are made with a mix of ingredients like Jerusalem artichoke and Cassava root that the company says support digestive health.