'We’re confident that with this change, consumers will come back into the Diet Pepsi franchise'

Pepsi exec: Aspartame is the #1 reason why US consumers say they are drinking less diet cola

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Seth Kaufman: "We’re really confident that with this change, consumers will come back into the Diet Pepsi franchise.”
Seth Kaufman: "We’re really confident that with this change, consumers will come back into the Diet Pepsi franchise.”

Related tags: Coca-cola, Pepsi

To those arguing that replacing one artificial sweetener (aspartame) with another (sucralose) won’t arrest flagging sales of Diet Pepsi, PepsiCo SVP Seth Kaufman told FoodNavigator-USA that consumer research had singled out aspartame – rather that artificial sweeteners in general – as a problem.

Kaufman, who is senior vice president, Pepsi & Pepsi Flavors Portfolio, PepsiCo North America Beverages, was speaking to us after announcing plans to remove aspartame from Diet Pepsi, Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi, and Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi in the US by August (click HERE​ for details).

However, rival Coca-Cola said it had no plans to drop aspartame from Diet Coke, and several commentators queried​ whether Pepsi's decision to drop aspartame would transform Diet Pepsi's fortunes.

Kaufman told FoodNavigator-USA: “We’ve done a ton of work on consumer calls, letters, along with primary research and social listening and the number one reason why US consumers are drinking less diet cola is because of aspartame.

“This is about evolving consumer demand in the US and in diet cola specifically we kept hearing about aspartame over and over again from consumers.”

Asked about the cost implications of switching to sucralose, which has historically been much more expensive than aspartame, but has recently dropped considerably in price​, he said: “This new approach won’t change our pricing strategy for Diet Pepsi but as you can imagine a lot of supply chain work as well as consumer work has been involved ​[in making the switch].”

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While the reaction to Pepsi's move on social media was largely positive, not everyone was convinced it would be a gamechanger

The number one reason why US consumers are drinking less diet cola is because of aspartame

Asked whether consumers were just bored of Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke and looking for other kinds of beverages now, regardless of the sweetening system these brands chose, he said: “I would agree that there are many many more options for consumers today than there were several years ago, and we have products that meet all of these needs.

“That said, in diet cola specifically in the US, our research shows that the key reason folks said they were drinking less diet cola was specifically this ​[aspartame], so we’re really confident that with this change, consumers will reappraise, and come back into the Diet Pepsi franchise.”

Pepsi without aspartame landscape
PepsiCo will axe aspartame from Diet Pepsi, Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi and Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi in the U.S from August: “While decades of studies show aspartame is safe, we recognize that consumer demand is evolving.”

Pepsi True performing well with subset of consumers

pepsi-true-3

Asked about the performance of stevia-and-sugar-sweetened mid-calorie cola Pepsi True​, which is now available in selected retailers in Denver, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. following a soft launch on Amazon in late 2014, he said: “Naturally-sweetened mid cal has its place in the market with a subset of consumers.

“We’re really really happy with how it is performing with that subset of consumers. With a cola, if you nail taste and refreshment you're in a pretty good place."

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2 comments

Pepsi Out of Touch

Posted by roger,

If Pepsi really thinks flagging aspartame free will revive flagging sales they are desperately out of touch, the consumer has moved on and the company focus needs to move with it. Its an old but true cliche that consumers buy benefits not attributes and guess what they always will

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Pepsi's move to abandon aspartame confuses consumers even more

Posted by Hans Heezen,

An opportunistic, Short Term move, which Signals once again to the Consumer that the Food and beverage industry often does Not stand behind the ingredients they use , even if they acknowledge that it's safe. Diet Coke may benefit, as they already tried diet Coke with Splenda (Sucralose) , which miserably failed a couple of years ago!

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