I’m old enough to remember the New Coke fiasco of the mid-80s, when Coca-Cola monkeyed with its tried and true formula to create something truly awful. It didn’t take them long to bring back the good stuff as Coca-Cola Classic (79 days to be exact), and the company eventually phased out New Coke altogether.
Coca-Cola even talks about the gamble on their website, patting themselves on the back for their marketing genius and polishing that turd as best they can:
Calls flooded in not just to the 800-GET-COKE phone line, but to Coca-Cola offices across the United States. By June 1985, The Coca-Cola Company was getting 1,500 calls a day on its consumer hotline, compared with 400 a day before the taste change. People seemed to hold any Coca-Cola employee — from security officers at our headquarters building to their neighbors who worked for Coke — personally responsible for the change.
So, I suppose most of us who were around at the time can be forgiven for putting up our guards when Coca-Cola announces a formula change.
The company introduced Coke Zero, a slightly better-tasting diet soft drink than Diet Coke, in 2005. It has become so popular that its sales grew in 2016, while sales of Diet Coke shrank. And now Coca-Cola is debuting Coke Zero Sugar, a replacement with a new formula that supposedly tastes more like regular Coke, this summer.
“It is a reinvention of Coke Zero,” CEO James Quincey said in a call with investors.
According to Coca-Cola, which spent more than a year market testing the product, Coke Zero Sugar is closer to the taste of the standard Coca-Cola. But with zero sugar and zero calories, the drink is designed for customers who are seeking lower-sugar options.
I actually saw the new product on the shelves at Walmart this morning when I stopped by on my way to work. I might have picked one up to try if they had had individual ones, but all I saw were six-packs.
The question remains: is Coke Zero Sugar the next revolution in diet beverages, or will it turn out to be a 21st century New Coke? Tasting will be believing, of course, and consumers will surely vote with their wallets.
(Now, it’s worth nothing that Coke Zero Sugar still contains aspartame, so for those of you who, like me, are concerned about the chemicals in diet drinks, you’ll want to stay away. I’ll probably try it just to satisfy my curiosity, but I’ll stick with my Coca-Cola Life.)