Feisty Cherry. Zesty Blood Orange. Twisted Mango. Ginger Lime. No, those aren’t contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race or characters from a Cartoon Network kids show. They’re new flavors of Diet Coke! It’s all part of Coca-Cola’s next gamble, to endear their 35-year-old product to millennials who suddenly seem to prefer the flavor of coffee and seltzer to carbonated battery acid. In addition to launching those four new flavor profiles, the company has also come up with a new tall, skinny, colorful can to put them in. But in case you were worried (AND YOU WERE, I COULD TELL), they haven’t reformulated the original Diet Coke. Though you’ll also be able to stock up on skinny cans of that, too.
Two years of innovation and a whole lotta market research led the company to the conclusion that younger Americans enjoy big, bold flavors, “from hoppy beer to spicy sauces.” So basically, this is the Sriracha-fication of soda.
The company spoke to more than 10,000 people from across the country to get their ideas and inputs on potential flavor extensions, packaging updates and more. From these insights, Coca-Cola’s R&D team developed and tested more than 30 Diet Coke flavor combinations, featuring tropical, citrus and even botanical notes. Ultimately, Diet Coke landed on four flavors that received the most positive consumer responses.
According to Rafael Acevedo, Coca-Cola North America’s group director for Diet Coke, “Millennials are now thirstier than ever for adventures and new experiences, and we want to be right by their side. We’re contemporizing the Diet Coke brand and portfolio with sleek packaging and new flavors that are appealing to new audiences.” But is a packaging redesign and some adjective-laden new flavors going to be enough to get the kids out of Starbucks and back to rotting their insides with artificial sweeteners?
The Atlantic has some doubts. It notes that though soda consumption peaked in the 2000s, with Americans chugging 53 gallons of soda per person each year, that figure has been steadily declining every year this decade. Part of it is due to evidence that diet soda isn’t actually that healthy (and that drinking it daily can contribute to strokes and other health problems), but part of it is due to the fact that, as Coca-Cola noted: Our tastes have changed. Sure, we may like bold flavors, but we specifically like bold flavors that aren’t cola.
Bottled water consumption has skyrocketed since 2000, and the volume consumed actually surpassed that of soda in 2016. And then there’s flavored water and seltzer, which are categories showing huge growth. The flavored seltzer market alone is growing about 10% each year. We also have more options for our caffeine fix, from the booming growth of the coffee industry in the U.S. to the rise of energy drinks. And also — there are simply other sodas on the market that we can enjoy when we DO want some. Original Coke and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar are both still showing growth, as are options like Fanta and Sprite.
Even anecdotally, this makes perfect sense. Sure, in the early 2000s I knew plenty of people who powered through a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke every goddamn day. But now I and basically everyone I know has switched to seltzer. Or tea. Or, yes, lots of fancy coffee. My husband, who at one point in time literally drank Coke and nothing else (to the point that a doctor told him he was either suffering from early-stage kidney disease or was severely dehydrated), now enjoys a small class of ginger ale as a treat at the end of a long day’s work. Otherwise, he drinks water. Granted, I took all of this as your average signs of maturity — after all, I do sit-ups and shit now too, which I certainly didn’t do 10 years ago. But it IS more than that. Cities are passing sugary drink taxes, after all. And though Diet Coke is still one of the best-selling sodas in the country… maybe Americans are finally starting to drift away from soda in general?
Basically the LaCroix threat is realer than real, folks. So Coca-Cola, if you’re listening: Call me when you’ve got a “Pamplemousse Diet Coke” to offer.