In a statement on its website, PepsiCo said the launch was about "helping consumers get back to the fun and refreshing side of cola".
Sweetened with "real sugar and stevia leaf extract", Pepsi True has "30% less sugar than regular Pepsi and contains no high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners", said the company.
The ingredients are: Carbonated Water, Sugar, Caramel Color, Phosphoric Acid, Natural Flavor, Caffeine, and Purified Stevia Leaf Extract (while the green can is presumably meant to convey a more natural positioning, it doesn't make any 'all-natural' claims on pack).
Pepsi True - which has 60 calories and 16g of sugar per 7.5oz can - will be available exclusively on Amazon from mid-October in 24-packs of 7.5-ounce cans, a move PepsiCo says will help it assess demand ahead of a wider launch.
Simon Lowden, chief marketing officer at Pepsi Beverages North America, told reporters: "We recognize at the moment that Pepsi True is a niche product in our portfolio. We want to be at the right size and the right scale to accommodate the 'mid- calorie' segment, which is still small today."
Euromonitor: A smart move to launch via Amazon
But what does this mean for Pepsi Next, Pepsi’s other mid-calorie cola - the US version of which has 60% less sugar, but also contains high fructose corn syrup, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium?
PepsiCo would not comment, but Euromonitor International beverages analyst Jonas Feliciano said: “I guess Pepsi Next is now Pepsi Past.”
As for Pepsi True, he said: “I’m unsurprised [by the launch], but it’s a smart move to launch via Amazon.”
The big question facing Pepsi True and Coca-Cola Life (which launched in Fresh Market stores in the US over the summer) is whether they will bring new - or lapsed - consumers to the cola category and help to reverse the flagging fortunes of the carbonates market.
Speaking at the recent FoodNavigator-USA beverage entrepreneurs forum (click HERE), Feliciano said the jury was out.
But to think US consumers will ever return to drinking as much cola as they did in the 1980s or 1990s is probably wishful thinking, he said.
People are looking for beverages that do more than simply hydrate
In short, shoppers now have so many options, that if they are going to use up valuable calories on beverages, there are plenty of other products that offer more functionality for their calories than Coca-Cola Life et al, he added.
“If we’re going to consume calories there has to be a reason, whether it’s indulgence, or a functional or health purpose. It’s about what my drink does for me… People are looking for beverages that do more than simply hydrate.”
Zevia chief executive Paddy Spence - who was also speaking at the FoodNavigator-USA beverage entrepreneurs forum - also expressed doubts about mid-calorie colas, although he acknowledged that Coca-Cola Life is different to Pepsi NEXT and Dr Pepper TEN in that it only contains ‘natural’ sweeteners, whereas the others use a combination of sugar and artificial sweeteners in most markets*.
Coca-Cola has not provided an update on how well Coca-Cola Life is performing in the US market yet.
*The Australian version of Pepsi NEXT contains stevia but the US version does not.