An avid diet soda drinker examines the zero sugar trend

I ordered my Diet A&W Cream Soda, and I quickly realized that something was different. My “diet” soda was no longer diet. Instead, it had become “zero sugar.”

What the hell was going on? I had to know that because diet soda is my everything. It’s one of the few things in life I really like, and I know many of you love diet sodas too. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry.

This week I took the podcast Margins of Error in a thirst quenching direction to try to solve this marketing mystery and see if I should actually drink any of this.

I soon realized that A&W was no deviation. It was part of a trend.

Just take a walk down the local grocery store like I did and you will find that diet soda disappears. Brands like Canada Dry and Crush have replaced their diet sodas with “zero sugar”[ads1];, while others like Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper now have zero sugar options in addition to diet.

Everything comes down to business. I spoke with Emily Cantois, who wrote “Diners, Dudes, and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture,” and she told me that the word “diet” has become a four-letter word. Diet has been associated by some – especially young men – with “femininity, and in a ridiculous way,” said Cantois, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.

On top of that, Cantois told me that “diet is about deficiency, diet is about restraint, diet is about femininity in these negative but also painful ways.”

It turns out that this is not a new problem for low-calorie soda producers. Low-calorie soda, also called “diet” or “zero sugar,” has been around for 70 years, and how to market it has always been a difficult thing.

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Do you lean completely on the idea of ​​a diet, or do you lean on the idea of ​​getting healthier by cutting sugar without losing flavor?

There were once a number of different low-calorie drinks – Diet Rite, Tab, Patio, Diet Pepsi and much later, Diet Coke – in the early days, and they went with different marketing strategies.

In this Diet Rite ad from around 1969, Boston Celtics star John Havlicek emphasizes that the drink is for those who “are not on a diet”.
On the other hand, Tab asked its customers to “be a Mind sticker … with a shape he can not forget” in this 1960s ad.

Blink until the 2000s, when the business with low-calorie soft drinks looked quite gloomy at the beginning of the current century. Sales of diet soda declined. Marketing ultimately comes down to what works commercially, and it was definitely time to move away from the diet.

Welcome to the country with “zero sugar” soda. Cantois claimed that from a marketing perspective, “zero strength and fullness and an increase in value. It has zero sugar as a good thing instead of diet like this pursuit of nothing.”

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Guess what? It seems to work. Sales of low-calorie soda are increasing, and a large part of it seems to be the zero sugar phenomenon.

Coke Zero sold out Diet Pepsi last year, according to statistics from my colleague Danielle Wiener-Bronner, who covers the food sector for CNN Business. This made it the second most popular “low calorie carbonate”.

As you may have guessed, Diet Coke is still in first place. Nevertheless, from 2019 to 2021, Diet Coke’s market share fell by 3.3 percentage points, while Coke Zero increased by 3 percentage points.

Of course, I was left with the question of whether this low-calorie thing is better for you than the regular versions. The good news is that most experts agree that drinking sweet without sugar can lead to better short-term results than drinking with sugar, as you can see from this recent meta-study CNN previously reported. But you should listen to the podcast to find out why it is not so easy to understand the long-term effects.

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