Pepsi Brings Aspartame Back as Sales Slump

June 27, 2016 Updated: October 5, 2018

Diet Pepsi will bring aspartame back into its formula after sales plummeted when PepsiCo dropped the artificial sweetener a year ago.

Called “Diet Pepsi Classic Sweetener Blend,” the aspartame-sweetened soda will hit the shelves in September with its 12-ounce cans, 2-liter bottles, and 20-ounce bottles. The cans will sport light blue packaging.

The current Diet Pepsi sweetened with sucralose (Splenda) will continue to come in silver cans.

PepsiCo nixed aspartame in August 2015.

With U.S. soda consumption dropping to a 30-year low, diet colas did especially poorly and the perception was that health concern over aspartame may have been the cause.

“Diet cola drinkers in the U.S. told us they wanted aspartame-free Diet Pepsi and we’re delivering,” said Seth Kaufman, a senior vice president of PepsiCo North America Beverages, in a press release announcing the decision last year.

Indeed, Diet Pepsi volume dropped 5.2 percent in 2014, while Diet Coke lost 6.6 percent, Fortune reported.

But when the first quarter 2016 numbers came in, the aspartame-free Diet Pepsi did even worse than coke, losing 10.6 percent, while Diet Coke declined 5.7 percent, according to industry tracker Beverage Digest.

Diet Coke continues to use aspartame.

Some consumers complained online about the taste of Diet Pepsi with sucralose.

But when The Street tested Diet Pepsi on its staff, the majority couldn’t correctly tell the difference between the one with aspartame and the one with sucralose.

In addition, the majority preferred Diet Pepsi with sucralose over Diet Coke (with aspartame). 

Aspartame had been linked to cancer in lab mice, but it is approved for use and the Food and Drug Administration says more than 100 studies support its safety. PepsiCo’s decision to bring back Diet Pepsi with aspartame was first reported by Beverage Digest.

Meanwhile, PepsiCo also said Monday that Pepsi MAX will be re-introduced to as Pepsi Zero Sugar in the U.S. and will still contain aspartame.

Shares of PepsiCo Inc. slipped 26 cents to $101.72 amid a broad market sell-off. Its shares are up more than 7 percent over the past year.

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