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Soda Plop: Lower-carb Colas Mostly Fizzle

Posted - Jun. 18, 2004 at 5:20 a.m.



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For anyone cutting carbohydrates - the diet trend of the moment - the fizzy bite of a regular Coke is as taboo as a slice of apple pie.

This summer, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi are introducing alternatives to ordinary diet soda. The companies call them "mid-calorie" soft drinks: lower-sugar colas that combine sugar with artificial sweeteners, targeting the carb-counting masses. Both Coca-Cola C2, which is already available, and Pepsi Edge, which is hitting stores soon, contain half the carbohydrates and calories but claim to replicate the taste of the originals.

Of course, as carb-conscious dieters are quick to point out, both cola companies already have popular low-carb drinks: Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, both containing zero calories and carbohydrates. But regular cola drinkers often complain that the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas taste sickly sweet, leave an aftertaste or cause headaches.

Who, exactly, is the market for the lower-sugar colas? Regular diet drinkers presumably don't mind the taste and are unlikely to switch to a drink with calories. Even half the sugar of a regular soda is a lot for someone on a low-carbohydrate diet.

Pepsi says it's targeting "dual users" - people who drink both regular and diet soft drinks, and who are dissatisfied with the taste of diet versions of colas. The company says that 60 million people are in that consumer group, although the 11 testers in our unscientific poll regularly drink one or the other, not both.

Both the new sodas contain a combination of artificial sweeteners and high-fructose corn syrup, the sugar syrup that sweetens regular cola. In addition to corn syrup, C2 uses aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose, the no-cal, no-carb sweetener sold as Splenda.

Pepsi Edge contains just high-fructose corn syrup and Splenda. Splenda is a sugar-based sweetener that has become especially popular among Atkins dieters, some of whom think it tastes more like real sugar.

"Pepsi Edge comes at a time when consumers are paying extra-close attention to what they eat and drink," says Dave Burwick, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the company.

And Don Knauss, president and CEO of Coca-Cola North America, says: "We're responding to what consumers are telling us they want. They want the option to keep enjoying that special cola taste, but with fewer carbs and calories."

Will C2 and Pepsi Edge catch on, or fizzle like New Coke and Clear Pepsi? Only time will tell, but most of our testers are already dedicated to their colas of choice.

"Ain't nothin' like the real thing!" one tester said.

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THE RESULTS

C2 and Pepsi Edge have half the calories and carbohydrates, but how well do they mimic the flavor of the originals? We did an informal taste test of the new lower-sugar colas versus the originals and their diet versions among 11 devoted drinkers of regular or diet cola. Their responses ranged from tepid enthusiasm to disgust. Some of their comments:

Coca-Cola C2:

"Tastes like Coke, but with a tinny, semi-sweet aftertaste." "Tastes flat." (A common criticism among our tasters.) "Lacks the bite that makes Coke special. I'd rather drink half as much real Coke." "I'll stick with the real thing until they prove it will kill you!"

Pepsi Edge:

"Not quite as awful as a regular diet drink." "Just bearable." "The reduced calories and carbs might persuade me to drink Pepsi Edge." "Definitely better than C2, but I tasted the diet bite."

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WHAT'S IN THERE?

In 12 ounces of...

Coca-Cola classic:

140 calories and 39 grams of carbohydrate

C2:

70 calories and 18 grams of carbohydrate

Regular Pepsi:

150 calories and 41 grams of carbohydrate

Pepsi Edge:

70 calories and 20 grams of carbohydrate

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(c) 2004, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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