Two World Health Organization reports expected later this week on the artificial sweetener aspartame could cause marketing headaches for hundreds of food and beverage products.
The sweetener, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1974, is an ingredient in many low-sugar or sugar-free products, including sugar-free gum such as Trident, sugar-free Jell-O, drink mix Crystal Light and Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi.
One report is expected to label aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic” and the other will review the daily limit and long-term effects of consuming the sweetener. The pending rulings, first reported by Reuters in late June, have put new scrutiny on diet sodas, reigniting debate about their use of aspartame. Experts say big brands such as Diet Coke can withstand the negative news because of their loyal fan bases. Still, the reports could open the door for challenger soda brands that have made gains in recent years by touting healthier ingredients.
“This is more of an opportunity for other brands than a detriment to brands whose products contain aspartame,” said Kate Weidner, co-founder and CEO of SRW Agency, which works with natural food brands. “It’s not enough for them to read that Diet Coke is not good for you. You probably already knew that. So if you want to change my behavior, it has to be just as easy. Look at a ‘better for you’ soda. It might be more expensive, but an easy swap.”
Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo did not respond to requests for comment.