PepsiCo's New Pepsi True Highlights Trend Toward Use Of Stevia In Mid-Calorie Offerings

LOS ANGELES , October 8, 2014 () – PepsiCo’s recent announcement that it was launching a new mid-calorie beverage highlights a shift in how beverage companies are creating products aimed to bridge the gap between regular and diet soda drinkers.

The new drink, Pepsi True, uses a mix of sugar and stevia and contains 30% less sugar than a regular Pepsi, but with no artificial sweeteners or high-fructose corn syrup. It's also the first cola under the flagship Pepsi brand since Pepsi Next back in 2011. Unlike Pepsi Next, however, Pepsi True uses no artificial sweeteners and it will be among the first colas in the U.S. to use stevia as its primary sweetener.

Pepsi True is being launched at a time when Coca-Cola is also gradually releasing its own stevia-sweetened cola. Coca-Cola Life began to roll out in the U.S. at Fresh Market stores in the south in late August, after launching in Argentina, Chile, the U.K. and Mexico.

Will the use of stevia and the move away from artificial sweeteners boost the sales of popularity of mid-calorie beverages? Many analysts say it’s too soon to tell. But many agree that the approach is worth trying given the sales drop-off across the U.S. carbonated soft drink industry.

Over the last nine years, industry sales in the U.S. have steadily declined amid increased concerns about health and wellness, as well as research linking soda to obesity and health problems. Diet soft drinks have been particularly affected. According to industry newsletter Beverage Digest, U.S. volumes last year for Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi fell nearly 7% from 2012, compared to a 4% drop in U.S. soda volumes overall.

The U.S. soda industry needs to find something to counter falling bottom lines, and it looks like the use of stevia is its next attempt.

Nevin Barich is the Food and Beverage Analyst for Industry Intelligence. Email him here or follow him on Twitter here.

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