Are you old enough to remember when diet pop (or diet soda) first hit the shelves in American food stores? It was 1958 when Diet Rite, produced by Royal Crown Cola, first appeared. Its success inspired Coca-Cola to introduce Tab in 1963, and a year later Diet Pepsi made its debut. In 1982 Coca-Cola brought out Diet Coke.
As reported by CNN Business on 14 December, at the time Diet Coke came along, cola-flavored drinks dominated the market, but the diet segment was growing three times as fast as the rest. 
New Name, Same Game
Coca-Cola considered naming its new product “Sugar-Free,” but “many felt that was a slur on Coca-Cola’s main ingredient.” Now, however, that thinking has changed. 
With 72 percent of Americans overweight and 40 percent obese, the word “diet” has fallen out of fashion for describing low- or no-calorie drinks. 
Marketers feel that the word carries a stigma; that it’s identified with women, thereby canceling its appeal to men. And, because of changing attitudes toward health, the public now tends to see the absence of sugar as a positive attribute. 
In contrast to “diet,” which smacks of austerity and deprivation, “sugar-free” tends to imply a purer, “cleaner profile.”
TRENDPOST: We feel compelled to point out that sugar is a fairly straightforward (and natural) ingredient that has been around for centuries, and its long-term effects on the human body, while far from beneficial—see “DRINK LOTS OF SODA AND DIE” (11 Aug 2020) and “COKE’S PROFITS SPARKLE: GOOD AND BAD” (27 Jul 2021)—are at least known. 
And as for the artificial sweeteners, like aspartame or acesulfame potassium, the mold inhibitors and preservatives (notably sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate) that are used in diet—er, Zero Sugar—sodas they are only rarely in the sugared versions. So “sugar-free” may imply a “purer, cleaner profile” only if one doesn’t read the label and ignores the facts:
Dozens of studies have linked aspartame—the world’s most widely used artificial sweetener—to serious health problems, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, seizures, stroke and dementia, as well as negative effects such as intestinal dysbiosis, mood disorders, headaches and migraines.
Crap Cola
As for “diet-soda” being positive for weight loss, the opposite is true: According to articles posted on The Defender website, “Evidence also links aspartame to weight gain, increased appetite and obesity-related diseases. See our fact sheet: Diet Soda Chemical Tied to Weight Gain. 
So, along comes a rebranding, across the industry, of the products formerly designated “diet”; now they are identified as “Zero Sugar.” And that’s seen as a good move for the “diet” segment of the soft drink business, which, while its sales are still less than half that of the sugared versions, is growing faster; diet soda sales have increased by almost 20 percent over 2018 levels, compared to a mere 8.4 percent for regular sodas.
There are a few notable exceptions. Diet Dr. Pepper, for example, is seen by its manufacturer as such a strong brand that it will continue to occupy shelf space alongside the new Zero Sugar version, even though their formulas differ only slightly.
Zero Sugar sodas are already proving far more popular than “diet” versions with men and with young people; the article notes that Millennials and Gen Z-ers are uninterested in anything labeled “diet.” And those demographics are especially important to the growth of the soda industry.
The industry’s big players, and a few newer, smaller ones, are also offering different alternatives to traditional sodas, including sparkling water (which offers a more healthful image because it often has no sweeteners and no calories, although some varieties contain caffeine) and a whole new category of sodas, made with ingredients like Jerusalem artichoke and cassava root, that are touted as promoting digestive health.
TRENDPOST: Those newfangled sodas might be on to something; digestive health might be more important than anyone thought; see “GUT BACTERIA MAY CAUSE, AND CURE, SOCIAL MISBEHAVIORS” (23 Mar 2021).

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