About eight years ago, in response to consumer concerns about the potential health risks associated with the artificial sweetener aspartame, PepsiCo decided to remove this ingredient from its popular diet soda.
Sales flopped. A year later, aspartame returned to Diet Pepsi.
Today, the top three ingredients listed in the small print on the back of Diet Pepsi and its competitor Diet Coke cans and bottles are water, caramel color, and aspartame.
A trip through the grocery store reveals the ingredient on the labels of not only diet soda but diet tea, sugar-free gum, sugar-free energy drinks and diet lemonade drink mixes. By some estimates, thousands of products contain aspartame.
The use of aspartame, often known under the brand name Equal, in food and beverage products has long been under scrutiny. The latest iteration came Thursday, when a World Health Organization agency announced that aspartame could possibly cause cancer and encouraged people to switch to water or other sugar-free beverages that contain large amounts of aspartame. consume beverages.
But with the emergence of several new artificial sweeteners that are plant- and fruit-based, Big Food may not be giving up on aspartame, and analysts don’t expect it this time. This is because this ingredient is one of the least expensive sugar substitutes to use, it works especially well in beverages and mixes, and people love its taste.
There was also opposition to the urgency of the WHO announcement. In a quick rebuke, the US Food and Drug Administration said it disagreed with the findings, and reiterated its stance that aspartame is safe. And a second WHO committee said that a person weighing 150 pounds would need to drink more than a dozen cans of Diet Coke a day to exceed the sweetener’s safe limit.
Garrett Nelson, who covers the beverage industry, said, “The big beverage companies have been doing contingency planning for months, experimenting with different sweeteners, aiming to keep the taste and quality of diet beverages as consistent as possible with existing products.” have to make.” In CFRA Research. But they are unlikely to change their prescription unless they see a significant drop in consumer demand based on the WHO report, he said.
“If consumers actually stop buying Diet Coke because of this report, if sales start to suffer, then it may be time to move to Plan B,” Mr. Nelson said.
Coca-Cola sent questions to the American Beverage Association, the lobbying arm for the industry. “Aspartame is safe,” Kevin Keane, the organization’s interim president, said in a statement.
PepsiCo did not respond to questions for comment, but in an interview with Bloomberg Markets that aired Thursday, PepsiCo Chief Financial Officer Hugh F. Johnston said he didn’t expect a huge consumer response.
“I believe that, in fact, this is not going to be a significant issue for consumers, based solely on the preponderance of evidence that suggests that aspartame is safe,” Mr Johnston said.
The WHO agency’s assessment adds to consumer confusion about aspartame, but it’s also the latest in recent research focusing on the potential risks and questioning the artificial sweetener’s true benefits. Just a few weeks ago, WHO advised against A review of studies using artificial sweeteners for weight control did not show long-term benefits in reducing body fat in either children or adults. The review also suggested that sweeteners are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
This year, researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released a Study It found that digesting another sweetener, sucralose, produces a chemical that breaks down DNA and may contribute to health problems.
For years, food and beverage companies and regulators have generally decried research raising questions about artificial sweeteners, largely arguing that the studies were flawed or inconclusive or that the health risks were too low.
“A large body of scientific evidence shows that low- and no-calorie sweeteners reduce sugar and calorie consumption,” said Robert Rankin, president of the Calorie Control Council, a lobbying organization for nearly two dozen manufacturers and suppliers. provide an effective and safe alternative to Alternative Sweeteners, said in an emailed statement on Thursday.
In fact, most food and beverage companies that use aspartame are reluctant to make the switch partly because aspartame is less expensive than other alternatives and is 200 times sweeter than sugar, meaning that little Sa goes a long way.
“One of the advantages of aspartame is that it’s been made for so long that manufacturers have really refined its cost and processing so well that they get a better product,” says Adjunct Organic Chemistry at Vassar College. said science professor Glenn Roy, who spent more than three decades working at food companies including NutraSweet, General Foods and PepsiCo.
In addition, the FDA approved aspartame in 1974, giving companies decades of data and information on what aspartame could and could not be used in products. For example, it can enhance and enhance the flavor of certain fruits such as cherries and oranges, making it a favorite sweetener for beverages and chewing gum. But upon heating, aspartame loses its sweetness, making it less desirable for baked or baked products.
Food and beverage companies are releasing new no- or low-sugar products in response to consumer demand, but many are being made with new sweeteners, or sweeteners. Each new product goes through a number of sensory and taste tests before it is released.
But scientists warn that loyal customers of products that have been around for decades, such as diet soda, are accustomed to a specific taste, and a change in ingredients could throw them off.