- The World Health Organization’s July announcement that aspartame is “possibly carcinogenic” has not impacted consumers’ feelings on diet soda brands from companies such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Keurig Dr Pepper, according to a HundredX survey of 150,000 respondents.
- Since May, consumption intent — the percentage of customers who plan to consume a specific brand during the next 12 months minus those who say they will drink less — for top diet soda brands grew by 2%, outpacing regular sodas, which saw a 1% rise.
- The data indicates that consumer demand for diet sodas remains strong and that consumer opinion over the safety of these beverages or their ingredients has not changed. This is welcomed news for the large soda makers who generate hundreds of millions of dollars in sales each year from these diet products.
Just two months after the controversial announcement, diet sodas appear to have dodged another round of criticism over the safety of a key ingredient.
“We were surprised the potential health implications did not have a more negative impact on people’s intent to consume diet soda,” Andre Benjamin, vice president of strategy at HundredX, said in an email to Food Dive.
Benjamin added that consumers will likely continue to drink diet soda despite the health risks because they “care more about other factors that bring them more happiness like taste.” He added that there “hasn’t been a notable shift in consumers’ sentiments regarding the healthiness or ingredients of diet sodas,” with most individuals believing they are better for them than regular soda.
Diet sodas have been a bright spot for Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in an otherwise sour market where regular cola sales have plunged as consumers cut back on their sugar intake. Currently, diet sodas make up 27% of the carbonated soft drink market, according to Statista.
The cola giants have large stakes in the sugar-free space with Coke Zero, Diet Coke, Pepsi Zero Sugar and Diet Pepsi — all four of which contain aspartame.
While consumers so far appear tied to diet sodas, the WHO announcement has likely only sowed furthered confusion among the general population while providing additional fodder for critics.
Earlier this summer, the global health body’s cancer research arm said for the first time that aspartame is “possibly carcinogenic” after reviewing “limited evidence,” but a different agency within WHO added that it’s safe to consume the ingredient within a certain limit.
Aspartame is a hugely popular ingredient beyond just soda. The sweetener is found in nearly 6,000 products around the globe, including Crystal Light, Extra gum, some Snapple drinks and sugar-free Jell-O.
Benjamin noted there are mixed feelings among consumers when it comes to aspartame.
Some individuals are concerned that changing the ingredients will negatively impact the taste of the soda, while others say it is their choice if they want to consume aspartame. At the same time, a different group of people say even though they love the taste, they will start to cut back given the new WHO information.
“We plan to continue listening to consumers to see how sentiment changes as more time passes since the original report to understand what soda brands can expect long term,” Benjamin said.