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Pepsi Returning Aspartame to New Diet Cola

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

Jun 27, 2016

So maybe it wasn't the aspartame after all.

That was the beginning of a CNBC story (giving credit where it's due) but it perfectly sums up PepsiCo's about-face on the year-old removal of aspartame from Diet Pepsi … which only resulted in the removal of thousands of loyal Diet Pepsi drinkers.

It's been rumored for about month, but PepsiCo on June 27 announced it was returning aspartame to its diet cola(s) – with a typical marketing twist.

The company will continue to sell the aspartame-free versions of Diet Pepsi in silver cans and plastic bottles, but will also begin selling, probably in the fall, Diet Pepsi Classic Sweetener Blend in a retro blue can. The latter will contain aspartame and will only be available in 12-packs of cans and 2-liter and 20-oz bottles.

Sounds a little like the New Coke marketing two-step of 1985.

Aspartame had been linked to cancer in lab mice – as probably all synthetic sweeteners have – but a noticeable anti-aspartame cohort had developed among consumers more than a year ago. Faced with declining diet soda sales, as all soft drink bottlers are, PepsiCo decided to test whether aspartame was at least partially to blame. The sweetener was replaced by a blend of sucralose and acesulfame potassium (ace-K) in Diet Pepsi last August.

Instead of a revival, the switch only exacerbated Diet Pepsi's sales slide, and the company heard many specific complaints that the new formulation did not taste as good.

Somewhat coincidentally, the company is rebranding Pepsi Max diet cola. Its recipe will remain the same – using sweeteners aspartame and ace-K – but the name will be changed to Pepsi Zero Sugar.