PepsiCo just unveiled a new sodacontaining a plant-based sweetener called stevia.
The drink was made for anti-sugar consumers seeking an alternative to artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame.
But there’s a problem: Stevia’s bitter aftertaste is widely polarising, and as a result, many analysts have predicted it will ultimately fail.
Stevia is the same zero-calorie alternative to sugar that caused an uproar this summer when Coca-Cola began quietly adding it to VitaminWater. Consumers hated the taste of the new sugar-and-stevia blend and Coca-Cola was ultimately forced to return to its original recipe.
Pepsi’s new drink, called Pepsi True, also contains a blend of sugar and stevia. Compared to a regular Pepsi, the 7.5-ounce, 60-calorie drink has 30% less sugar and 40% fewer calories.
Coke recently launched a similar stevia-and-sugar carbonated beverage called Coke Life. Opinions of the new drink are mixed.
Dr. Pepper Snapple Group has also been experimenting with stevia-flavored versions of Dr. Pepper, 7-Up, and Canada Dry.
All the major soda companies are investing so much in stevia — despite negative reactions to its taste — because an increasing number of consumers are rejecting artificially sweetened products.
“The carbonated soft drink business has been in decline for about 10 years in the U.S. and recently, diet sodas have been underperforming the regular sugared sodas,” said John Sicher, the publisher of Beverage Digest. “Coke and Pepsi need to innovate dramatically and aggressively” to stay in business, he said.
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper will eventually find a way to balance out stevia’s bitter taste, if they haven’t already, Sicher said.
PepsiCo told CNBC that it took three years to develop the ideal blend of sugar and stevia for Pepsi True.
“It’s taken us three years to get to a place we feel good about,” said Simon Lowden, chief marketing officer at Pepsi Beverages North America. “No one is willing to give up on taste. Taste is king.”
To help make the taste of its sweeteners pop, PepsiCo is now experimenting with a substance called Sweetmyx, which enhances the taste of sugar, stevia, and other sweeteners.
As they continue to innovate, stevia could be replaced in the future with other natural sweeteners such as monk fruit, Sicher says.
“This is just the first round in a lot of innovation to come,” he said.
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