Battle of mid-calorie sodas begins, but “taste cloud” may hang over them.

PepsiTrueOK, as reported last week in a nice piece in the Huffington Post Online, here comes Pepsico with their cokelifemid-calorie soda, new Pepsi True. This is Pepsi’s answer to Coca Cola Life, the Atlanta soda juggernaut’s mid-calorie entry reported on, somewhat derisively, here on SME Brand Leverage blog, September 5.

Guess the only place where you can buy Pepsi True?

Now, while Coke is apparently going to market and sell Life pretty much in line with traditional soft drink retailing, i.e. distribution in grocery and convenience stores; media advertising, promotion and social media support, Pepsi True is using a very different and more limited distribution attack, exclusively selling on Amazon ONLY. Maybe they’ll cross promote with diet books.

Whether this reflects Pepsi’s more conservative expectations for their mid-calorie player, or just a phased “wait and see” approach before they expand to broader distribution and availability, we’ll see.

Here’s where it gets a little confusing.

Both True and Life are sweetened with a blend of sugar and stevia, a sugar substitute derived from plants that has essentially no calories (more on “stevia” below). Pepsi True contains 60 calories in a little slight of hand using a 7 1/2  ounce can; Coca Cola Life at least stands up straight and tall in its “big boy” pants in a traditional, full size 11.2 ounce can, and clocks in at 89 calories. In “normal” size (11.2 ounces) cans, they would both have nearly equal calories. So I guess Pepsi wins the calorie lightweight title using some packaging sleight of hand, but gee, what if you’re still thirsty and need to drink two of them?

(Just for the record and comparison, full size can of regular Coke has around 140 calories.)

This dive off the we-can-make-our-mid-calorie-soda-lower-than-yours board comes less than a week after Pepsi joined Coca Cola in promising to cut calories in its beverages by 20 percent, buckling under the “Fight Obesity” war cries of the world’s Food Nazis.

cokelife_canonlyPEPSI-TRUE-caseSo, is everything going to be oh-so-tasty in Mid-Calorie Land? Again, we’ll see.

This is where this “experiment” in skinny living and soda drinking is going to get interesting.

The beverage companies are getting desperate to offset rather meaningful declines in their diet soda volumes, probably a partial result of the “diet” products having having an undesirable aftertaste. As the HuffPo article lays out, now the soda giants are counting on stevia to revitalize their “lower” calories products.

But there’s a potential problem with stevia: formulas using it are sometimes perceived as having a bitter, sometimes licorice-esque aftertaste that’s unattractive to some drinkers. Earlier this year, Coca Cola’s Vitaminwater reformulated using stevia in its formula. The customer blowback was pretty rough and caused Coca Cola to retreat and return to the original formula within only one month of the change.

So, yes, we’ll see how these new “stevia” based reformulations are accepted. Companies can make mistakes. Remember “New Coke”? How bout “Pepsi Next”?

Original Pepsi  and Coca Cola drinkers may scrunch up their noses when they taste Pepsi True and Coca Cola Life. sour face

Of course they may like the new mid-calorie sodas “enough,” that they just grin and bear it….

and keep trying to squeeze into those pants that used to fit.

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