Soda Companies Compete to Create A Healthier Diet Drink

Pepsi and Coke are racing to find a natural sweetener for their beverages

With rising health concerns about both regular and diet soft drinks, the top soda companies are in a tight race to develop a healthier diet drink. Now, Coke and Pepsi are scouring the world and churning out test products in order to discover the right ingredient to naturally sweeten their sodas without the metallic aftertaste of existing sweeteners.

Natural sweeteners such as Stevia, which is derived from a South American shrub, eliminate the calories of sugar (and the negative associations of artificial sweeteners), but the taste factor is still lacking. The aftertaste of Stevia has proven difficult to mask in traditional sodas, so the search goes on for other plants and natural sources that can remedy the issue.

The high fructose corn syrup that currently sweetens regular sodas has been criticized for its high sugar and calorie content, while the aspartame used in diet sodas removes the calories, but is considered a chemical and believed by many to cause diseases such as cancer.

This may be soda makers’ biggest challenge yet, but the companies remain optimistic. Al Carey, head of the American beverage unit at PepsiCo told MSNBC, "I can't say when it will be here, but it's in the reasonable future.” The proposed soft drink ban in New York has brought significant media attention to the issue, and the companies are looking for ways to combat potential losses due to the negative publicity.

Even Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, the third-largest soda maker in the nation, is hot on Coke and Pepsi’s trail. They may even be more successful, because their flavored sodas such as Sunkist and A&W Root Beer may mask the taste of these new sweeteners better than traditional colas. At a beverage industry conference earlier this year, Dr. Pepper’s CFO Marty Ellen predicted a foreseeable “sweetener breakthrough” in the next few years.

Testing is currently underway for Coke and Pepsi’s new products, but only time will tell if these new diet sodas can compare to the originals.