- PepsiCo announced Monday that it will return the aspartame-sweetened version of Diet Pepsi to store shelves in September. Called Diet Pepsi Classic Sweetener Blend, the beverage will have a new light blue packaging. Diet Pepsi in its reformulated sucralose-sweetened form will remain available in the brand's traditional silver can and in soda fountains.
- After reformulating Diet Pepsi to replace aspartame with sucralose in August, consumers responded unfavorably to the change, and sales plunged more steeply than the diet soda brand had in preceding quarters.
- PepsiCo also announced plans to change the name of smaller diet soda brand Pepsi Max to Pepsi Zero Sugar in the U.S.
PepsiCo seems to be backpedaling on its decision to reformulate Diet Pepsi without aspartame, which was a move precipitated by consumers' and public health advocates' concerns about the artificial sweetener. But the Food and Drug Administration and various health officials say the substance is safe to consume.
Chief beverage competitor Coca-Cola has taken a different approach to addressing declining diet soda sales. In late April 2015, Coca-Cola announced that it was sticking with aspartame for its Diet Coke recipe, promoting its Coke Zero brand as an alternative diet soda option. Diet soda sales continue to fall, but Diet Pepsi's attempt to appease health-conscious consumers only exacerbated sales declines for the brand.
Manufacturers have to keep in mind the palates and preferences of their loyal consumer base when weighing whether to reformulate a legacy brand or create a new one to meet changing consumer demands, particularly when the decision could impact flavor.
Diet Pepsi's renaming of Pepsi Max to Pepsi Zero Sugar in the U.S. was another key point in PepsiCo's announcement. The company has struggled with consumers confusing Pepsi Max with other higher-calorie offerings in Pepsi's portfolio, so the company took a cue from Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper Snapple in using the term "zero" for its zero-calorie diet soda brand. Coke Zero has outperformed other diet soda brands, but even its soda volumes fell 3.3% in the first quarter.
PepsiCo may have made the "zero" name switch much earlier but was concerned about a trademark battle with Coca-Cola. Now the "zero" mark is fair game as of earlier this month, when a three-judge panel on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office trial and appeal board granted rights to the term "zero" to Coca-Cola but also challenger Dr Pepper Snapple and any other manufacturer that wishes to use it.