As some people dislike the calories in soft drinks, but loathe the taste of their zero-calorie diet equivalents, Pepsi is hoping to win back beverage consumers with a compromise, a mid-calorie soda.
The American company is rolling out Pepsi Next, a cola that has less than half the calories of a standard Pepsi at 60 calories per can.
Pepsi Next, which is slated to hit store shelves in the U.S. by the end of next month, is the company’s biggest product launch in years.
Pepsi Next comes as people increasingly move away from sugary drinks to water and other lower-calorie beverages because of health concerns.
It is also an attempt by Pepsi to revive the cola wars against Coke and others.
Pepsi Next isn’t the first drink to try to hit the sweet spot between diet and standard cola.
Dr. Pepper Snapple rolled out its low-calorie Dr. Pepper Ten, which has ten calories. The company said the drink, which has sugar unlike its diet soft drink, helped boost its fourth-quarter sales.
But coming up with a successful “mid-calorie soda”, which has more calories, has proved a challenge for beverage makers.
In 2001, Coke rolled out C2 and Pepsi in 2004 introduced its Pepsi Edge, both of which had about half the calories of a regular soft drink. Both products also were taken off the market by 2006 because of poor sales.
John Sicher, editor of Beverage Digest, said: “The problem was that consumers either wanted regular soda or a diet drink with zero calories – not something in between.”
Pepsi says its latest stab at an in-between soft drink uses a different formula to more closely imitate the taste of a regular soda.
Pepsi Next is made with a mix of three artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup.
Melissa Tezanos, a spokesperson for Pepsi, said the company developed the cola by researching the “taste curve” that consumers experience when drinking a regular soft drink
She compared that arc to how someone might evaluate a sip of wine, from the moment the liquid hits the tongue to the after-taste it leaves.
Melissa Tezanos said: “We wanted to develop a taste curve that gives the full flavor of regular Pepsi.”
Pepsi Next also follows the company’s lower-calorie variations of its other drinks.
The sport drink Gatorade, a unit of Pepsi, has G2, which at 20 calories has a little less than half the calories of the original version. And the company’s Tropicana unit introduced Trop50, which is half of the 110 calories in a regular glass of orange juice.
But orange juice and sports drinks have nutritional benefits that a drink maker can market. A mid-calorie soft drink is a tougher sell because it provides only empty calories.
So health-conscious drinkers usually opt for a diet soft drink or quit altogether.
Sales in the $74 billon soft drink industry have been fizzling out, with volume falling steadily since 2005, according to Beverage Digest, which tracks the industry.
Meanwhile, healthier drinks are growing more popular, with bottled water accounting for 11% of all beverages consumed in 2010, up from 2% in 2000. Consumption of sports drink rose to 2.3%, from 1.2%.
Diet soft drinks also rose to 29.9% of the carbonated drink market in 2010, up from 24.7% a decade earlier.
To keep up with changing tastes, Coke and Pepsi have introduced newer versions of their diet drinks – Coke Zero and Pepsi Max – that promise a taste that’s more like their regular sodas.
Pepsi hopes Pepsi Next will help it gain back the market share it has lost in recent years.
The company’s namesake drink had its share in the carbonated soft drink market fall to 9.5% in 2010, from 13.6% a decade earlier, while Diet Pepsi’s share remained steady at 5.3%.
Coke is still the top selling brand, with 17% market share. Diet Coke follows with 9.9%.
Pepsi, based in Purchase, New York, said earlier this month that it plans to increase marketing for its brands by $500 million to $600 million this year. A centerpiece of that will be Pepsi’s first global ad campaign this summer, a peak time for the soda market.
Soda calorie counter
A standard can of soft drink contains the following calories:
Pepsi Next – 60
Pepsi – 150
Coca-Cola – 140
Diet Pepsi – 0
Diet Coke – 0
Sprite – 96