In our increasingly health conscious world, people are paying more and more attention to what they are putting in their bodies. So much so that food manufacturers, including companies that make soda and other convenience drinks, have noticed a definite shift in the soft drink market. It seems that for one reason or another, soft drinks with artificial sweeteners are on the wane from the peak of diet soda demand in 2005.
Since 2005, American consumption of diet soda has fallen by more than 27% – a loss of 834 million cases. In 15 years, the category went from accounting for nearly 30% of all carbonated beverages by volume sold in the US to roughly 25%, according to Beverage Digest data.
That’s quite a drop. Whether it comes from an increasing awareness that artificial sweeteners like Monsanto’s aspartame (originally marketed as “Nutrasweet”) are not the panacea they were described in the beginning, or the reality that sodas sold by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are expensive, the shift in the market is to bottled water, energy drinks, and tea.
In the same 15-year period that the diet sodas declined by 28%, single-serve bottled water sales grew 76% by volume. Sports drinks grew 20%, while bottled, ready-to-drink tea grew a whopping 91%.
Industry trade journals and watchers have watched this steady drop in diet soda sales for years. The market share shrinkage is attributed to a number of things including the reality of effects of artificial sweeteners of long-term use on the human body, demand for aspartame to be removed coming from consumers, and the diet versions of new formulations not being able to compare taste wise to the original. Take for example Diet Pepsi which recently had a change in formula to conform with consumer demand:
Diet cola drinkers in the US told us they wanted aspartame-free Diet Pepsi and we’re delivering,” Seth Kaufman, senior vice president of Pepsi and Flavors Portfolio, said in a statement. “We recognize consumer demand is evolving and we’re confident cola-lovers will enjoy the crisp, light taste of this new product.”
Consumers didn’t respond as Pepsi had hoped.
The negative backlash was immediate, and instead of stopping falling sales, Diet Pepsi’s performance declined only after the new recipe’s debut.
“Diet Pepsi is awful,” one customer wrote on the company’s Facebook page soon after the aspartame-free version was released. “I hate the new flavor.”
In contrast, sports drinks and high energy drinks had no ancestor, so consumers had nothing to which to compare it. That is considered the key to their success considering the calorie content. Diet conscious consumers might well be gravitating toward water and tea.
No matter what the reason behind the change, there is a seismic shift in the soda wars. Americans are consuming considerably less of the diet versions of soda, and more “still” drinks. Given the mountain of evidence now accumulated that artificial sweeteners lead to all sorts of health issues – as does consumption of sugar – changes in the make-up of the soda market are interesting.
Full disclosure: this writer gave up diet soda decades ago. There is a family intolerance to artificial sweeteners.