Sugar Crush: Why Diet Soda Sales Have Crashed

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Diet soda is not as popular as it once was. Sales of low calorie soda fell by nearly 7 percent over the last year, while sales of regular soda dropped just over 2 percent, according to a Wells Fargo analysis of Nielsen data.

Though soda is still the most consumed beverage in the United States overall, consumption has been declining for several years. “It used to be carbonated soft drinks were it,” says Gary Hemphill, Managing Director of Research for the Beverage Marketing Corporation, a consulting and research firm. “If you were thirsty, and you wanted something fun and refreshing, that is what you would drink. In the 80’s, you saw it broadening, that’s carried on at an accelerated pace.” But while the industry once hoped that diet soda would be its salvation, but the artificially sweetened soda has begun to contract more quickly than its full-sugar counterpart.

The explanation, experts say, is a combination of consumer’s concerns about health and the rapid proliferation of alternatives. Contemporary consumers are particularly concerned about the safety of artificial sweeteners. According to a report on health and wellness from the Hartman Group, a research and consulting firm that specializes in consumer behavior, as compared to 2007, more consumers in 2013 were concerned about avoiding sweeteners like Saccharine, Aspartame (in Diet Coke and Pepsi), and Sucralose, while those concerned about avoiding salt and refined sugar, dropped.

The report also showed a rise in the number of people concerned with genetically modified ingredients—evidence that concern about soda could be part of a larger trend away from processed foods. “The biggest trend in food, really, is a desire for consumers to move away from things that are very processed,” Hartman Group’s CEO, Laurie Demerit “The drumbeat of trend is increasing and there’s now some other ingredients to fill the gap.”

The proliferation of alternative beverages that have hurt the entire soda industry may have a particular impact on diet soda because so many of the popular options on the market, like vitamin water or coconut water, are low calorie. Other sweeteners like Stevia, a South American herb, seem healthier to consumers because it is natural. Consumers may not have abandoned diet soda all together, they just may be drinking less of it as they sample many different products. This is especially true of Millennials, who like to experiment, says Demerit.

Conversely, the desire to be healthy may have driven people back to regular soda. Demerit says they’ve seen some consumers switch back from diet soda to regular soda because they realize if all soda is bad for them, they might as well drink the one that tastes better when they want to indulge.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the end of major beverage companies, especially as they diversify their holdings—Coke recently took an ownership stake in ZICO coconut water—and work to innovate with natural sweeteners. A spokesperson from the American Beverage Association wrote in an email: “Our industry believes in the soft drink business and sees opportunity for continued innovation and growth.”

4 comments
MaureenBeach
MaureenBeach

Low- and no-calorie sweeteners have been proven to be safe and an effective tool for weight management, all based on decades of scientific research as well as the support of regulatory agencies around the globe.

Our member companies continue to broaden their portfolios to include a wide variety of product choices, portion sizes and calorie counts to meet the individual needs of consumers. Beyond soft drinks, our companies also offer ready-to-drink teas and coffees, water, sports drinks, juices and more.

mtngoatjoe
mtngoatjoe

Nutrition science is more hocus pocus, than real science.


I enjoy carbonated drinks, but the fact is, there is no evidence to support the idea that diet is better than regular. Nor is there any evidence that either is healthy.

TammyBurnsFriedman
TammyBurnsFriedman

Just another paid talking head spewing misleading propaganda for a paycheck. Enough with the corporate speak and stop sounding like a lying robot already. I'm sure Maureen Beach isn't your real name or your real picture and based on all of your other comments, you are just a representative of a corporate-backed front group to reassure people that drinking soda won't make you fat and sick. Unfortunately for you, the decrease in sales despite the increase in population shows that people know the truth: drinking soda DOES make you fat and sick!!