Coke v. Pepsi: Battle Stevia

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Pepsi, Coke, Coca Cola Life, Pepsi True, stevia, public health, soft drinks, stevia root, obesity, Leon Kaye, cola wars
Coca-Cola Life is on sale in limited locations in the U.S. South

The Coke vs. Pepsi “cola wars” was one of the 20th century’s greatest marketing campaigns, or scams, depending on your point of view. Both companies have become massive food and beverage giants while somehow perpetrating the myth that there is actually a taste difference between their flagship products (though insisting you can taste the difference between Coke and Pepsi is like saying you can taste the difference between a Whopper and Big Mac). But fast forward to the 21st century; while these companies are still strong, sales of fizzy drinks are flat. Some, such as diet soda products, are in decline or losing market share. Can stevia-based drinks reinvigorate the soft drinks industry?

The reasons Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s sales of their most venerated products have struggled are all over the map. Obesity rates and their connections to sugary drinks are one. Health concerns over aspartame, sucralose, and years before, sodium saccharine are another. In a society where many younger consumers want to serve the latest and coolest in their mason jars, cola drinks don’t exactly cut it. There is also much more competition than there was a decade ago. Walk into a convenience store and the variety and colors of cans and bottles demonstrate Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s competition. The soda giants even own many of these newer brands — any recent growth they’ve seen has come from new products, not sales of their older brands. Now two new products boasting calorie-free stevia root, Coca-Cola Life and Pepsi True, are set to hit shelves in the United States, and both companies hope they can reverse the slow but notable long term downtown in soft drink sales.

The first thing you notice about these products, of course, is the packaging. Both companies claim the green signifies the stevia leaf, but come on, marketers, the implicit message is that somehow these products are more “green” or “sustainable.” And perhaps they are. Both use a combination of sugar and stevia to limit the number of calories per serving to 60—a step up from high-fructose syrup, which many doctors and health experts say has contributed to Americans’ expanding waistlines the past four decades. The portions are smaller, too, with Coca-Cola life served in eight ounce bottles and Pepsi True for now in 7.5 ounce cans. But the big question is whether these beverages can succeed in the long term after their initial hype. While advocates of stevia tout it as a natural product, many consumers have long complained about stevia’s bitter aftertaste. Some analysts, as quoted in Business Insider, predict these drinks will fail in the end.

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Pepsi, Coke, Coca Cola Life, Pepsi True, stevia, public health, soft drinks, stevia root, obesity, Leon Kaye, cola wars
Pepsi True is available only on Amazon for now

Part of the challenge is finding that middle ground. Consumers who drink low- or zero-calorie beverages are resigned to some compromise in taste; those who insist their drinks are fully leaded will not budge. And as an article this summer in the Guardian explained, Pepsi’s and Coke’s new drinks still hold plenty of sugar: the Coca-Cola light sold in 11 ounce cans in the United Kingdom contained four teaspoons of a sugar. But at least these companies are taking a step to address portion control, whittling down the serving size closer to 6.5 ounces, the standard serving size for decades before both Pepsi and Coke turned away from that returnable glass bottle size in the 1970s.

For now Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are launching these new stevia-laden drinks in limited markets. Pepsi True is only available on Amazon.com, starting later this month. After Coke found success with Coca-Cola Life in Argentina and later Mexico, the company announced it can be found in some Fresh Markets in the U.S. South before a nationwide rollout.

It will be interesting to see how these products perform, as both beverage companies have been under pressure to release “healthier” foods and drinks . . . while insisting they are churning out nutritious products and contributing to healthier lifestyles. This is a strategic move analogous to McDonald choice to serve salads: Introduce a product that is benign compared to the current high-caloric options on the menu in hopes that it will quell mounting  health criticism. Hopefully Big Soda will have better luck than the golden arches.

After a year in the Middle East and Latin America, Leon Kaye is based in California again. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Other thoughts of his are on his site, greengopost.com.

Image credits: Coca-Cola Corporate site and Amazon.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

6 responses

  1. I am not an avid soda drinker, but it seems highly likely that these products will fair the same as other products currently are… and that’s because at the bottom of that bottle of CC Life, or can of Pepsi True, the feelings all the same… you just drank some soda, and the short-lived feelings of satisfaction are to be soon followed by feelings of guilt. There a way too many other soda-substitutes that give greater feelings of satisfaction and lesser feelings of guilt.

  2. Drink only sodas made with pure cane sugar and limit your intake. That’s it. Your body can break down simple sugar, but not HFCS and all the other chemical gunk they put in soda. Yes, stevia is a plant with natural sugar, but why mess with something like cane sugar? Geez.

  3. whos the moron who thinks bigmacs taste ANYTHING like a whopper or pepsi ANYTHING like coke. brush your mouth out once in a while, they taste soo completely different. its like night and day

  4. The author can’t tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi? And he can’t tell the difference between a Big Mac and Whopper? I would have thought that would be required for someone writing an article on competing food types. Personally, I just bought a six-pack of the stevia Cokes but have not tried them (they haven’t even gotten cold yet!). But I am willing to give them a fair trial. I have to say that I miss the days of actual sugar instead of corn syrup, and have bought Mexican Coke for that reason alone. So this should be an interesting experiment.

    1. I like the Coca-Cola Cola Life more than the standard formula. The cane sugar more than makes up for the presence of stevia.

  5. Note to author: No matter how informative you think your article is, you lose all credibility with readers when you INSIST there is no taste difference between Coke and Pepsi. FYI regular coke has a heaver, deeper taste which leaves a more sticky taste/sensation in your whole mouth whereas regular Pepsi, has less ‘bite’, tastes less heavier and has cleaner ‘finish’ on your palate. And yes, both their diet variants also have perceptible taste differences. BTW, I’m no longer a soda fan, having given up seven years ago. I hope others can too.

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