Coca-Cola Co. is killing Coke Zero in favor of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. It's hard to tell what's different, however, beyond a significant design and branding overhaul.
The ingredient list remains largely the same, including the use of aspartame as a sweetener. "We optimized the blend of flavors that gave Coke Zero its real Coca-Cola taste," a Coca-Cola spokeswoman said when asked to explain the difference in the formula. She pointed to changes in the natural flavor composition. New packaging plugs a "new improved taste."
But the alterations seem as much about marketing as the liquid. By putting "Zero Sugar" in the name, rather than just "Zero," the brand more clearly communicates that it does not contain sugar. The negative publicity around sugar's link to obesity has emerged as a major threat to soda makers in recent years, which has only intensified as more local governments enact taxes on sugary drinks. PepsiCo made a similar change last year when it rebranded its Pepsi Max product as Pepsi Zero Sugar. It promoted the shift by making Pepsi Zero Sugar, not regular Pepsi, the sponsor of the Super Bowl halftime show.
Coke Zero Sugar has "the same ingredient line-up as Coke Zero in the same order," said Duane Stanford, editor of beverage industry trade pub Beverage Digest. But natural flavors "could help ingredients interact with each other in a more flavorful way." Still, he added that "I would not see this as a wholesale change to the formula or taste profile." Rather, "the big news today is that they are being extremely pointed about the fact that there is no sugar in this product," he said. "They want to leave no doubt about that. Because consumers want to better control their intake of sugar."