Coca-Cola’s Moment of Panic

Written by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

You can skip this video in  seconds
Skip Ad

Visit the Mercola Video Library

Story at-a-glance -

  • In an effort to revive consumer interest and increase sales, Coca-Cola added four “exotic” flavor offerings to its Diet Coke product line — Feisty Cherry, Ginger Lime, Twisted Mango and Zesty Blood Orange — flavors directed at millennials
  • Diet Coke, like most soda brands, has experienced flagging sales in recent years as energy and sports drinks, flavored waters and bottled teas have flooded the beverage market
  • Research underscoring the dangers of artificial sweeteners is also negatively affecting consumer interest in zero- and low-calorie soda
  • If you are still drinking diet soda, be aware that regular consumption of artificially sweetened beverages puts you at increased risk of chronic diseases such as dementia, depression, diabetes, heart attack, infertility, obesity and stroke
  • The Emotional Freedom Techniques is particularly useful to break soda addiction, and you may also find success in drinking black organic coffee, eating sour foods or switching to sparkling mineral water

In an effort to revive consumer interest in its flagging Diet Coke product line, Coca-Cola launched four new “exotic” flavors in January 2018,1 in slimmer, redesigned cans.

After reportedly testing more than 30 flavor combinations and talking with 10,000 people over a two-year period, Coke introduced Feisty Cherry, Ginger Lime, Twisted Mango and Zesty Blood Orange, which took their place alongside original Diet Coke, its formula unchanged. Given the can design, flavors and marketing, it is clear millennials are the intended target for the new beverages.

Diet Coke, as is the case with most soda brands, diet or not, has experienced decreased sales in recent years as energy drinks, flavored waters, sports beverages and bottled teas have flooded the market. The dangers of artificial sweeteners, as well as scientific evidence linking the consumption of “diet” products to chronic illnesses like diabetes and obesity, are among the factors contributing to Diet Coke’s eroding popularity.

Introduced in 1982, Diet Coke experienced years of wild popularity through 2005, when the diet soda market peaked. That year, 3 billion cases of diet soda were sold, much of it Diet Coke. Since then, sales of diet soda have plummeted by more than 27 percent. In nearly the same time frame, the market for other drinks exploded — bottled tea sales grew by 91 percent, single-serve bottled water increased 76 percent by volume and sports drinks rose by 20 percent.2

Coke Hopes to Recapture Attention of Millennials

By their own admission, Coke has its sights set on capturing the attention of millennials with these new flavors. About their two-year so-called “innovation process,” Coke suggests it was “fueled by consumer research pointing to younger Americans’ affinity for big, yet refreshing and great-tasting, flavors in their favorite foods and beverages — from hoppy craft beers to spicy sauces."3

While just four new flavors were launched, Coke’s research and development teams developed and tested more than 30 Diet Coke flavor combinations, featuring a variety of botanical, citrus and tropical elements.

Said Rafael Acevedo, the group director of brand management for Diet Coke in North America, “Millennials are now thirstier than ever for adventures and new experiences … We’re contemporizing the Diet Coke brand and portfolio with sleek packaging and new flavors that are appealing to new audiences. We're making the brand more relatable and more authentic."4

Marketing hype aside, given the continuing drop in sales, Coke is undoubtedly trying to pull in a new generation of Diet Coke drinkers. As reported by CNN Money,5,6 this is the second of its notable recent attempts to breathe life into its sluggish low- and no-calorie beverage line. In 2017, the company replaced Coke Zero with Coke Zero Sugar, mainly to ensure consumers recognized the drink was sugar-free, but also apparently to tweak its flavor to taste more like original Coke.

It seems their efforts were a success. By year-end, Coca-Cola reported earnings and sales above forecasts, attributing part of the growth to the success of Coke Zero Sugar. Some suggest the black can and absence of the word "diet" may be at the root of attracting more males to Coke Zero Sugar, and the new offering may be succeeding at the expense of Diet Coke.7

In May, CNN Money reported “Diet Coke’s New Flavors Are a Big Hit,”8 saying the company’s first quarter volume growth in North America was largely due to the new flavor assortment, although Coca-Cola Zero Sugar also reported double-digit growth.9

Since 2006, Diet Coke’s sales volume has dropped off by a dramatic 34 percent,10 and this was the first time the company’s sales volume had risen since 2010. At the end of July, Forbes11 noted Diet Coke had performed “surprisingly” well in the second quarter as well.

Sales of Low- and No-Calorie Coke Products Under Pressure

Despite Coca-Cola’s relative success with Coke Zero Sugar and the four exotic newcomers, it’s evident consumer appetites for soda, including both diet and regular varieties, are diminishing. There are several reasons for this shift, and you’d be wise to support this trend given the significant health repercussions involved. As news about the potential dangers of these beverages continues to be made known, sales remain sluggish overall.

As an example, data released by the research group Cowen noted a 2 percent decline in diet soda sales in the fourth quarter of 2017, which included a 4 percent dip in Diet Coke sales (and an 8 percent slide by Diet Pepsi).12 The most telling aspect of Diet Coke's decline perhaps relates to the way consumers and the beverage market have evolved in recent years — with three major shifts having taken place that put pressure on an aging brand:13

  • Bottled water — Despite the negative environmental and health impacts of drinking bottled water, consumption of it has tripled since 2000. In 2016, the volume consumed outpaced soda consumption in the U.S. for the first time ever. Markets for flavored water and flavored seltzer water, as well as vitamin water, also continue to grow.
  • Coffee and energy beverages — Back in the early 2000s, soda sales outpaced coffee by a 3-to-1 margin in the U.S. Since then, coffee sales have soared and sales of energy drinks have grown by more than 5,000 percent since the turn of the century.
  • Regular soda — As evidenced by the replacement of Coke Zero by Coke Zero Sugar, pressure is on to produce more flavorful beverages. Many drinkers prefer the so-called richer taste of classic Coke, which is sold in 200 countries and continues to grow in popularity worldwide. Coca-Cola's financial reports also suggest sales of Fanta and Sprite are rising in the U.S.

Given these market shifts and the noticeable impact on Diet Coke, The Atlantic said:14

"One could argue that, in the last decade, all of the jobs of Diet Coke are being outsourced to superior beverages. The role of hydration has been outsourced to bottled water and sports drinks, like Gatorade. Getting a jolt of energy has been outsourced to coffee and energy drinks, like 5-hour Energy.

And the satisfaction of a cold liquid fizzing on one’s tongue? That’s been outsourced to the trendy crop of flavored seltzers, like LaCroix. In the end, it probably doesn’t matter what the Diet Coke can looks like. Young people know what’s inside the can. Perhaps that’s precisely why they’re drinking so much less of it."

Why Low- and No-Calorie Drinks Really Aren't Better for You

If you are among those still clinging to the outdated notion you're making a healthier choice by choosing diet over regular soda, it's time to get educated. Mounting research highlights the potent negative effects beverages like Diet Coke can have on your body. A few of the health risks associated with drinking diet soda include:

Depression — According to a study involving nearly 264,000 U.S. adults over the age of 50, those who drank more than four cans or glasses of diet soda or other artificially sweetened beverages daily had a nearly 30 percent higher risk of depression compared to those who did not consume diet drinks.15

Diabetes and metabolic syndrome — Although people with Type 2 diabetes are often advised to consume artificial sweeteners in lieu of sugar, one study indicated daily consumption of diet soda puts you at a 67 percent greater relative risk of Type 2 diabetes and a 36 percent higher relative risk of metabolic syndrome as compared to those who avoided these beverages.16

Heart attack — After following nearly 60,000 post-menopausal women for about nine years, researchers found drinking just two diet drinks a day can dramatically increase your risk of early death from heart disease.17 In fact, heavy consumers of diet drinks were about 30 percent more likely to have suffered heart trouble than those who rarely or never consumed artificially sweetened beverages.

Infertility — A study presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's congress linked artificial sweeteners to infertility. About the research, which involved 524 women observed to have lower rates of IVF implantation due to artificial sweeteners found in diet soda or added to coffee and other beverages, professor Adam Balen, chairman of the British Fertility Society said:18

"This is a very interesting study that suggests the false promise of artificial sweeteners that are found in soft drinks and added to drinks, such as coffee, may have a significant effect on the quality and fertility of woman's eggs, and this may further impact on the chances of conception.

These findings are highly significant to our population. There should be more scrutiny of food additives and better information available to the public and, in particular, those wishing to conceive."

Obesity — Studies presented at the 2017 Endocrine Society's annual meeting prove artificial sweeteners promote metabolic dysfunction that may promote the accumulation of fat.19,20

By testing sucralose (brand name Splenda) on stem cells taken from human fat tissue — using a dose similar to what would be found in your blood if you drank four cans of diet soda a day — researchers noted increased expression of genes linked to fat production and inflammation, as well as increased fat droplets on cells.

Cardiovascular disease — A recent study21,22 exploring how different sweeteners — including aspartame and acesulfame potassium-k — affect energy usage, energy storage and vascular functioning found both high amounts of sugar and artificial sweeteners caused vascular impairment and other effects "that may be important during the onset and progression of diabetes and obesity."

The artificial sweeteners, however, accumulated in the blood, thereby harming the blood vessel lining to a greater degree. Of the two artificial sweeteners included in this study, acesulfame potassium — found in Diet Coke Feisty Cherry, Ginger Lime, Twisted Mango and Zesty Blood Orange — appeared to be the worst.

Stroke and dementia — A 2017 study23 followed nearly 3,000 participants aged 45 and older for incidence of stroke and 1,500 participants aged 60 years and older for incidence of dementia related to consumption of sweetened beverages.

Based on a 10-year follow-up, the study authors said, "higher recent and higher cumulative intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks [was] associated with an increased risk of ischemic stroke, all-cause dementia and Alzheimer's disease dementia. Sugar-sweetened beverages were not associated with stroke or dementia."

Microbiome and DNA damage — Recent animal research24,25,26,27,28 published in the journal Molecules found all artificial sweeteners currently approved and deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cause DNA damage in, and interfere with the normal and healthy activity of, gut bacteria. This includes aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, neotame, advantame and acesulfame potassium-k.

According to the researchers, the effects on your gut health may in turn affect your body's ability to process regular sugar and other carbohydrates. Aspartame and ascesulfame potassium-k — both of which are found in Diet Coke's new flavor offerings — were also found to cause DNA damage.

Give Up Artificially Sweetened Beverages, Drink Water Instead

If you're still drinking diet soda, perhaps to avoid the calories in sugar-sweetened soda, there is no doubt you are damaging your health. The belief diet soda will help you lose weight, while unfounded, is up for debate in separate class-action lawsuits raised against Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper Snapple Group and PepsiCo — the three largest makers of carbonated beverages in the U.S.

The lawsuits allege each company's "marketing of diet sodas deceives consumers into thinking the beverages will help them lose or manage weight," when scientific studies have shown the opposite to be true.29 For more information on the court cases, check out "Diet Soda Makers Sued Over Deceptive, False and Misleading Advertising."

Because diet soda is linked to weight gain and regular soda, as well as most energy drinks, sports drinks and bottled teas, contains unhealthy amounts of sugar, your best bet is to make water your beverage of choice. There's no doubt you need pure clean water for optimal health.

It’s much better for you than any other drink and it also can help you maintain an ideal weight, fight fatigue and take the edge off moodiness. The best way to gauge your water needs is to observe the color of your urine and how frequently you urinate. The color of your urine should be a light, pale yellow. (If you take vitamin B supplements, your urine will be bright yellow, which is normal.) On average, the healthy number of bathroom visits is around seven or eight per day.

Alternatives to Soda and How to Overcome Cravings

Eliminating all types of soda, especially diet soda, is an excellent step toward better health. Due to the dramatic effect if will have on your health, you won't regret making this one change. If you remain unconvinced of the dangers of soda, especially diet soda, check out my "Coke Is a Joke" infographic. Below are some tips on weaning yourself off diet soda:

Apply the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) — Regardless of how long you've had the habit, I recommend you address your cravings for soda on an emotional level using EFT.

In the video above, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman walks you through the process of identifying the particular reasons you may have become attached to drinking soda, such as the carbonation bubbles, cool feel of the can, sounds of clinking ice and taste. She then walks you through a tapping routine to begin releasing your addiction.

Choose sour tastes — Sour tastes from fermented vegetables, or water containing a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice, may help reduce your craving for sweets.

Drink organic black coffeeBlack coffee, both regular and decaf, contains an opioid receptor that can bind to your body's opioid receptors, occupying them and effectively blocking your addiction to other opioid-releasing foods.30,31

Substitute sparkling mineral water — If you were particularly attached to the carbonation element of diet soda, you can enliven sparkling water by adding a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice, one to two drops of natural peppermint extract, liquid stevia (there are many flavored varieties), cucumber slices or a few crushed mint leaves.