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Diet soda goes upmarket


Diet soda popped onto the beverage scene some 60 years ago with a sugar-free ginger ale called No-Cal, developed for people with diabetes. Over the next few decades, Pepsi, Tab, Fresca and Coca-Cola all came out with their own sugar-free drinks, constantly reformulating their recipes to accommodate consumers’ taste.

Lately, the market for no-calorie soda “has become as effervescent as the beverages themselves,” writes the Los Angeles Times. Flavours are expanding (rhubarbs soda, anyone?) alongside the consumer palate, as small companies develop new products for soda-happy but calorie-wary customers.

Soda sales have declined in the U.S. over the last seven years as consumers switch to water and tea. But diet carbonated drinks are on the rise. They make up 29.1 per cent of sales, up from 24.7 per cent in 2000, according to John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest.

The new, exotically-flavoured beverages stem from a consumer demand for a sweet treat without the weight gain and tooth decay.

"We'd all love to drive a Ferrari if it had the fuel consumption of a Prius, but you can't have it all. What we've found with our product is that it gets the fuel consumption of a Prius and maybe drives like a BMW," Paddy Spence, chief executive of Zevia, told the L.A. Times. His company created a brand of soda sweetened with stevia and sold in Culver City.

Zevia was the first company to use stevia in a carbonated drink .The natural, no-calorie sweetened comes from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, which was deemed safe by the FDA.

Stevia is the new kid on the soda block (though it is commonly used in non-carbonated drinks like Sobe Life Water). Most diet sodas use aspartame, acesulfame potassium or Splenda.

Though all of them have been approved by the FDA, some studies have shown repeated consumption of sweeteners may lead to the development of preference for sweet and high-calorie foods and drinks.

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