By Jordan Valinsky, CNN Business
Pepsi Zero Sugar will soon taste different.
The sugar-free soda unveiled a new recipe that uses a “new sweetener system” that gives it a more “refreshing and bolder taste profile” compared to its previous iteration, Pepsi announced Friday.
Pepsi didn’t reveal what specifically changed in the formula, though the company told CNN it reduced the amount of caffeine, which now mirrors the amount in regular Pepsi. However, the company said that its customer research of the new flavor said it tastes more refreshing with a “real cola taste.”
The company “leveraged the best new beverage technology to upgrade our Pepsi Zero Sugar product to give fans the best tasting cola in the zero-sugar category,” said Todd Kaplan, Pepsi’s chief marketing officer, in a release.
The new recipe has begun rolling out to store shelves, and the packaging design remains the same. Pepsi did add a “new improved taste” badge to help shoppers identify the new formula.
Users on Reddit who discovered the new formula a few weeks ago said it tastes “way sweeter” and no longer has a “weird after taste” compared to its predecessor.
Pepsi is putting some marketing muscle behind the launch with new commercials airing during the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl. It’s the first time in three years that Pepsi has run a commercial during the Super Bowl, and the company dropped its sponsorship of the highly watched halftime show last year.
Pepsi Zero Sugar’s tweaked formula comes about a year after debuted a refreshed Coca-Cola Zero Sugar recipe. Coke did not reveal what it specifically changed but noted that the new version tastes “more refreshing and delicious” and its packaging also received a makeover.
From a sales standpoint, Pepsi Zero Sugar has struggled against main rival Coke Zero Sugar. According to data from Beverage Digest given to CNN, Pepsi’s version has captured less than 1% of overall soda sales — while Coke’s has consistently grown its market share over the past five years to nearly 4%.
“Pepsi can no longer be satisfied having an also-ran to Coke Zero Sugar,” Duane Stanford, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, told CNN. “Reformulating Pepsi Zero Sugar is a line in the sand that says it’s time to compete in earnest for share in the most important cola segment today.”
He added that “reformulation is a must to compete effectively,” because customers like sweeter colas.
It’s the second shakeup in Pepsi’s portfolio this week. Pepsi ditched Sierra Mist and replaced it with a new lemon-lime soda called Starry in an effort to better compete against Coke-owned Sprite.
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