Pepsi, Mountain Dew Launch Retro Drinks
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
If you walk to the beverage aisle in the grocery store, you can get dizzy from all the different varieties of soda. Take Pepsi Cola. There's Diet Pepsi, Caffeine-Free Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Pepsi One, and now, Pepsi Throwback. There's also Mountain Dew Throwback.
And by throwback, they're not talking about some sort of recycling program. That label refers to new retro variations of the popular drinks. Retro, because they're made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.
For more on this, we turn to someone who knows something about sodas. Steve Tanner is the founder of bevreview.com, and he joins us now.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. STEVE TANNER (Founder, Bevreview.com): Thanks for having me.
NORRIS: So why the return to sugar?
Mr. TANNER: It's a good question. It's been showing up a lot more often lately. I think the conversations that are happening around the use of high fructose corn syrup in our society has prompted it a little bit that way. There are some health concerns, whether or not they be validated or not. It's also being marketed as kind of a differentiator, you know, in such a way to make your brand stick out from the other colas that are out there.
NORRIS: You said the conversations going around and around high fructose corn syrup, Michelle Obama, the first lady, says she is not going to serve anything with high fructose corn syrup to her girls. The companies are responding to that because pancake syrup is also returning to sugar.
Mr. TANNER: They could be responding to it. I mean, I think that they're responding to it from a market perception - perspective there. I mean, whether or not it is proven to be good or bad, customers are thinking that way. And so they're obviously going to try to offer products that meet those perceptions.
NORRIS: Now, soda companies used to use sugar and then they turned to high fructose corn syrup. When and why did they shun sugar?
Mr. TANNER: The consensus as to when the shift actually happened seemed to be late '70s, early '80s. The reason for it was we - there were some tariffs placed on sugar being brought into the U.S. to kind of protect our market there. And then subsidies also kicked in at the same time to lower the cost of using corn products, like high fructose corn syrup. So that combination actually made high fructose corn syrup a cheaper ingredient to use to sweeten your drinks.
NORRIS: Well, I actually have some of this Pepsi Throwback here in the studio, and I have some regular Pepsi. And if you don't mind, while we continue to talk, I'm going to open one of these up because I want to taste this and see if there really is a difference. So that was the Pepsi Throwback I just opened up. And here, I'm going to open up the regular Pepsi.
You've already tasted both these products, yes?
Mr. TANNER: Yes, I have.
NORRIS: Okay. I'm first going to try the Pepsi Throwback. And, as I do, why don't you tell me what you think of it? How does it taste?
Mr. TANNER: The Pepsi Throwback compared to the regular version that we're all used to, I think, has a more defined cola flavor. It may seem a little less bubbly but you definitely get less of a syrupy taste. It's more of a clean, crisp flavor, as if a cola. You're just tasting the cola throughout, not only in your first sip but also in the aftertaste.
NORRIS: Okay. And as opposed to the regular Pepsi, which does have, I guess, more of that syrupy feel to it.
Mr. TANNER: Yeah. Definitely - I think you don't really notice the difference until you've tasted the Throwback. You know, you're not, you're used to drinking it one way and then when you taste what a different drink tastes like, then you're like, oh, I can't believe I was drinking this original stuff. Yes, the regular stuff that we're used to is far more syrupy. It has a little different aftertaste. It's buried in a thickness in carbonation.
NORRIS: Yes. It almost jumps up out of the can, as I just drank it.
Mr. TANNER: Right.
NORRIS: Now, is there a market out there of people who are just clamoring for a soda made with natural sugar?
Mr. TANNER: You know, that's a really good question. We're starting to see more and more companies bring stuff to market on that. So obviously, their research is showing something there. For example, Jones Soda brought out - they moved to pure cane sugar a couple of years ago as their stuff. And obviously, they're more of a niche beverage maker compared to Coke and Pepsi, so it's one way to kind of set them apart. Snapple has been re-launched by using sugar in their drinks.
Whether or not the whole debate on high fructose corn syrup, however it plays out, the perception is this is a healthier beverage, so to speak. And that may actually have a difference in the marketplace there.
NORRIS: We only have a few more minutes with you. But there's also Mountain Dew Throwback. The difference in the taste there?
Mr. TANNER: It's quite a bit more of a dramatic difference in the Mountain Dew Throwback. You're going to find tasty citrus flavor that originally was found in Dew, and not so much the acidic bite that I think has grown into the drink in the last few years. There's a, you know, the current version, it has a little bit of orange juice in it and the Throwback does not have it.
So we've seen in our online community a lot of folks commenting that they either love the drink or they just cannot stand it, because it's not the Dew they were used to, which, in some ways, I tend to prefer. It's a cleaner drink.
NORRIS: Cleaner drink, although it does have that sort of toxic yellow color. But we won't talk about that right now.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Is this an experiment? How long will these products be on the market?
Mr. TANNER: This is an eight-week test according to Pepsi. So they rolled them out a few weeks ago in April, so they're just going to run it and then they're going to put it away. Although there are a lot of folks clamoring for them to keep them around, so we'll see.
NORRIS: Steve Tanner, thanks so much for talking to us.
Mr. TANNER: It's been good talking to you, Michele.
NORRIS: Steve Tanner is the founder of Bevreview.com.