In case you wondering why all of our food isn’t just made with zero-calorie sugar substitutes, Pepsi’s latest issues with aspartame makes it pretty clear — fake sugar is really hard to do well.
As Bloomberg reports, “PepsiCo Inc., struggling to cope with plunging sales and unpredictable consumers, is bringing back its old Diet Pepsi formula less than a year after phasing it out.
Diet Pepsi, which was reformulated in August to drop the artificial sweetener aspartame, will be sold in its old recipe as Diet Pepsi Classic Sweetener blend in retro packaging.”
In other words, the soda company tried to take aspartame out of its Diet Pepsi, but consumers didn’t like how the new sugar-free sweetener sucralose tasted, so now it’s bringing back its original formula. And it all happened in less than 12 months.
Yoplait also recently eliminated aspartame from its sugar-free yogurt, and my sister and I agree — it just doesn’t taste the same. Now, we’re both reaching for fewer peach yogurts these days as a result.
So, as Pepsi has recently figured out, people might say they want sugar-free food made without aspartame, but that doesn’t mean they’ll actually eat it.
Of course, if there’s any industry that really struggles to find sugar substitutes people will eat, it’s confectionery. Candy has been demonized in recent years as the obesity epidemic has led to concerns about eating too much sugar. But as confectionery companies know, simply eliminating the sugar isn’t as easy as it sounds.
While gum and mint companies have been able to find recipes consumers like, delicious sugar-free chocolate is still about as rare as a Crystal Pepsi. (Although Pepsi is working to fix that by bringing the drink back).
And even when companies do find the right mix of sugar-free substitutes, consumers still might not be satisfied. Aspartame was meant to be the holy grail for the food industry, but instead it received a huge backlash.
I follow a lot of health groups on Facebook, and almost every day one of them is posting some meme about how aspartame supposedly causes everything from headaches to cancer. One of them literally reads, “Aspartame: Putting the die in diet since 1983.” Dramatic much?
As it turns out though, consumers are fickle, and memes are not what inspire people to choose a specific soda. Taste does. So candy makers take note — what consumers say they want, and what they actually want are two different things.
And with any luck, more confectioners will finally figure out how to make a sugar-free chocolate that tastes good. Hey, if Pepsi can bring back Crystal Pepsi, anything is possible.