That rare case when a company gets a reformulation right…

August 13, 2017, 1:55 PM

Some of you may have heard about how Coca-Cola Zero (aka “Coke Zero”) is being replaced by Coca-Cola Zero Sugar.  I heard it and I was a bit concerned about this.  After all, we saw how bad Diet Pepsi with sucralose was.  I was especially concerned with this after Pepsi, in response to their own reformulation, then rereleased the old version in parallel to the new one, and it’s very hard to find.  I liked Coke Zero, and I hoped that Coke Zero Sugar would not be the same disaster that the new version of Diet Pepsi was two years ago.

First of all, for those of you who are not familiar: Coke Zero is (was?) a diet version of regular Coke.  Diet Coke is a completely different flavor, and has little relation to the original Coke, other than the name.  I was pleased when Coke Zero was released in 2005, and discovered that it was a diet version of regular Coke.  I just plain don’t like Diet Coke, but Coke Zero was good.  I could drink that.

I was tipped off to Coke Zero Sugar’s arrival by a friend who found it at a local Safeway, so I swung by:

Side-by-side comparison of old vs. new.  Note the additional red on the new version.
Side-by-side comparison of old vs. new.  Note the additional red on the new version.

I bought two bottles.  I figured that was enough to form an opinion about it.  I took some with me in the car on a recent trip to Annapolis, and also had it for my usual morning pick-me-up.  I was surprised that it actually tasted pretty good.  I liked Coke Zero, but you could definitely taste the sweetener.  It was based on regular Coke, but it was unapologetically diet.  It tasted exactly like you would expect a diet version of regular Coke to taste like.  Coke Zero Sugar, on the other hand, is a bit closer to regular Coke. You really can’t taste the aspartame as much as before.  It’s not identical to regular Coke, but it’s much closer than Coke Zero was.

I actually consider this better than regular Coke, for two reasons: first of all, it’s a zero-calorie beverage, which means zero guilt as far as I’m concerned.  Secondly, it’s not made with high fructose corn syrup.  I’m not a big fan of sodas made with high fructose corn syrup because they leave a residue in your mouth.  Thus with those, you have to rinse the goo out of your mouth afterwards.  Yuck.  No residue on Coke Zero Sugar.  It’s also why I like Mexican Coke, because it leaves no residue.  I’d buy that more, but calories and all.

It’s funny – I’m sure that people who work for my previous employer could tell you all about how high fructose corn syrup is going to kill you and how evil the beverage industry is for using it, but I’m far more shallow than that.  I just don’t like the residue that it leaves.  Likewise, I will typically drink some organic fruit beverage with my lunch.  I drink it not because of any alleged health benefits related to either the fruit part or the organic part.  Rather, it’s because it tastes good and has no calories.  I don’t care that it’s “organic”.  It tastes good and doesn’t have calories.

I am willing to put the new Coke Zero Sugar up there in the category of quality diet sodas that taste more or less like their parent beverages without the caloric hit that the parent beverage provides (and the residue-leaving sweeteners).  It’s right up there with Pepsi Zero Sugar (formerly Pepsi Max) and Diet Dr Pepper.

Meanwhile, this amuses me on the back of the Coke Zero Sugar bottle:

The trademark graveyard

I call this the “trademark graveyard”, i.e. where beverage companies put their old logos that they don’t want to die off.  A trademark only keeps its protection as long as it’s used in commerce, and this is their token use of these trademarks in commerce.  Typically, the way Coke does it is that if they market the beverage as “Coca-Cola”, they do the same thing with the “Coke” logo on the back.  Likewise, if they call it “Coke” on the front, it’s got “Coca-Cola” on the back.  This is unusual because it has “Coca-Cola Zero” and “Coke Zero” on the back.  I’m surprised that “Coke Zero Sugar” is not on there as well.  Coke is not unique in putting variations of its logo on its products for trademark purposes.  Pepsi does it, too, putting a pre-1950 logo on the back of its bottles.

So all in all, not bad.  Coke Zero was good, but this is better.

Categories: Food and drink