Retail stores’ soda aisle has changed a lot in the past few years. For one, soft drink lovers may notice a lot less “diet” beverages today than they used to. And that’s because many “diet” sodas are disappearing — or at least, getting new packaging with the branding “zero sugar.”
Most soda brands have replaced the word “diet” with “zero sugar” in their products, primarily because the former has already fallen out of fashion — especially for Millennials and members of Generation Z.
Canada Dry, Schweppes, 7Up, A&W, and Sunkist now label their diet drinks “zero sugar.” And while other brands still come in “diet” packaging, many of those, including the namesake Dr Pepper brand, have added a separate “zero sugar” drink to their product lineup.
“Younger people just don’t like the word ‘diet,’” Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer at PepsiCo Beverages North America, said during the Beverage Digest Future Smarts conference earlier this month. “No Gen Z wants to be on diet these days.”
Meanwhile, other beverage companies, like Coca-Cola, have begun using “zero” instead of “diet” for the purpose of advertising its no-sugar products in a more gender-neutral way. When Coca-Cola introduced Coke Zero to the U.S. back in 2005, the Baltimore Sun published a story explaining that Coke Zero’s “marketing is geared to a demographic, such as young people and the most macho of men, who see a stigma attached to the word diet.”
In 2017, Coke Zero was rebranded to Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, which got a new look and taste this past July.
Jim Watson, a senior beverage analyst at Rabobank, told CNN Business that ditching the word “diet” creates a “gender-free way to talk about the same topic,” as the term “‘diet’ definitely got taken over as something for women.”
Moreover, in a report released last April, market research firm Mintel noted that “while the ‘diet’ designation may be associated with strict regimes or deprivation, the ‘zero’ designation has fewer negative connotations, corresponding with simply a cleaner profile.”
Apparently, replacing “diet” with “zero sugar” is a good move for many beverage companies, as the diet soda segment has remained profitable despite the branding switch from “diet” to “zero sugar.” Just last year, the U.S. retail diet carbonated soft drink market hit $11.2 billion, according to Mintel.
Though the diet soda segment is still far smaller than the market for regular carbonated soft drinks, which was $28.2 billion last year, the former is growing much more quickly than the latter. According to CNN, diet soda sales are up about 19.5% from 2018, compared to just 8.4% for regular soda in the same period, making it an attractive segment for soda makers seeking growth.
The diet soda segment, however, is currently facing competition from more novel beverage categories like sparkling waters and sodas that promote gut health.