Life is pretty exciting in the soft drink business. Every decade or two somebody comes up with the bright idea of tampering with the formula or fiddling with the packaging. Otherwise, things just sort of bubble along.
But this is one of those rare moments when there's a buzz in the executive suite that doesn't just come from too much caffeine and artificial sweetener. Pepsi is considering making changes in Diet Pepsi.
Sales have been kind of flat lately, so the Pepsi generators would like to fizz things up a bit. We looked at 71,000 consumer comments on social media over the last year and found that, sure enough, there's not a lot of enthusiasm for Diet Pepsi, with net sentiment burbling along around 55% or so, as shown in this graph:
Remembering the train wreck that occurred a few decades ago when Coca-Cola tried to fiddle with the Coke formula, Pepsi is emphasizing that it's not changing the taste or recipe for Diet Pepsi, it's just trying to get the stuff to stand up a little better to the battering it takes as it gets from the bottling plant to your lips. (Even changing the logo can get tricky, as Pepsi learned last year).
After all, the colored bubbly gets smashed into cans, loaded onto trucks, bounced around city streets, off-loaded, slammed into storerooms and just generally is shaken not stirred for what could be weeks or even months before it gets to the end guzzler.
All this rocking and rolling affects the aspartame that gives Pepsi its sickly sweet taste.
Oh, people still like the stuff, our sentiment analysis found, but the Pepsi people would like to see a bit more enthusiasm.
So Pepsi is pondering whether it should replace aspartame or maybe give it a boost from another chemical, maybe one like acesulfame potassium, a really sweet little number.
Aspartame is, of course, more commonly known as Equal and NutraSweet. Most of us aren't on a first name basis with acesulfame potassium, although its really close acquaintances have been known to call it Ace K.
What you really want to know about Ace K is that he's stable under heat, not like that delicate little aspartame, who tends to go all to pieces, chemically speaking, when things get hot and heavy.
Both aspartame and Ace K are about 200 times sweeter than sugar, although Ace K has a teeny bit of bitterness in his aftertaste. Kind of gives him that rugged outdoorsy image, you know? Aspartame does too but chemists will tell you that put the two together and they cancel out each other's aftertastes and are just as sweet as they can be.
Kind of like some couples we know. Sometimes anyway.
Those pesky health advocates quibble about the safety of aspartame and Ace K, but hey, they've been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Rats have been stuffed full of sweeteners and nothing much happened to them, although there was some evidence of heightened prenatal cancer risks, so don't drink the stuff until after you're born.