Tag Archives: Cher

Diet Pepsi drops aspartame: Gilding the Lily?

PepsiCo just announced that it will be taking the artificial sweetener aspartame out of Diet Pepsi and replacing with another artificial sweetener, sucralose (known more commonly as Splenda®), combined with another sweetener named acesulfame-K (‘Ace-K’), which is a lower cost ’sweetener helper’.

apm-free D Pepsi

The stated reason is to respond to consumer objection to aspartame, as stated by a Pepsi Sr. VP: “Aspartame is the number one reason consumers are dropping diet soda.”

The more likely reason is that Diet Pepsi volume is down over 5% in the last year, part of a long-term slide, and nothing so far has worked to reverse the trend.

But this change is unlikely to make a material difference, for a few key reasons.

First, let me risk public embarrassment to try to establish my bona fides.  I marketed aspartame (Equal® Sweetener) for 6 years, and sucralose (Splenda) for another 5.  Did a lot of consumer research during those years.

DavesSweetenerBonaFides

Left: failing the dorky marketer test. Right: at a trade show, excitedly pitching sweeteners

Here’s why I don’t think this will make a difference:

1) Consumers generally don’t know what’s in their diet soda to begin with.  When asked open-endedly about ingredients in diet sodas, they have a vague notion that they contain artificial sweeteners, but the sweetener is not often mentioned by name.  When prompted, they will recognize aspartame.  But while consumers may theatrically claim that they avoid aspartame when they’re in a focus group, in reality very few actually check labels.

2) Consumers are generally full of it when it comes to stated preferences.  They will tell you all day long that they want less fat, less sugar, less salt, etc – – but in reality they will rarely change ingrained habits if there’s even the slightest risk of compromise (such as taste or cost).

3) Non-users or lapsed users have a handy reason for why they don’t use the product.  Aspartame has enough negative PR that it is an easy, politically correct and inarguable reason as to why surveyed consumers aren’t using the product.  But the true answer is a more complicated mix of dynamics including macro consumption trends, emergence of new alternatives, and changing demographics (‘modern’ diet sodas were first introduced, and gained loyal followings, in the early 1980s).

4) Changing out one artificial sweetener for another just reminds consumers that diet sodas generally contain artificial sweeteners.  Not a great plan to bring in new users. 

5) Changing ingredients to meet claimed consumer preferences is no guarantee of success.  3 years ago ConAgra changed its Hunt’s ketchup back to High Fructose Corn Sugar after a 2-year switch to sugar, ostensibly to answer consumer objections to HFCS.  Sales volumes showed that consumers didn’t really care.

Hunts No HFCS

6) Most importantly, consumers like their products the way they are.  ANY CHANGE in a loyal user’s product formulation will arouse suspicion.  A product as iconic as Diet Pepsi owes its unique taste to the specific combination of sweeteners in its formula.  It is impossible to improve the taste of Diet Pepsi, because its ideal is defined by its current taste.  So any change will alienate current users, who are currently drinking it even knowing in the back of their minds that it contains an artificial sweetener.

Ironically, this is the same category where New Coke infamously demonstrated what happens when you change the formulation of a well-loved product.  It will be interesting to see whether this ‘New Diet Pepsi’ fares any better.

Below is an introductory spot for New Coke in 1985.  In retrospect, a product and spokesperson that ultimately followed similar paths, albeit on different timing.

Top 10 NRA Show Observations (Part 1)

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Once again, I’ve taken one for the team and walked the floor at the National Restaurant Association show (yes, that NRA; sorry Mr. Nugent).

NRA

Show Floor – 2014 NRA – McCormick Place

In addition to things I reported on last year, there are some exciting new offerings.

Because there’s so much cool stuff, I’ve separated my Top 10 list into #6-10 (today’s post) and Top 5 (coming soon).  So here we go.

[NOTE:  as always, all links and photos are live: click on them to learn more]

Observation 10.  Tea!  Tea!  More Tea!  – as you may recall, tea was originally introduced at the 3000 B.C. NRA show (held outdoors in Wrigley Field).

The news this year is that every time you turned around you bumped into another tea purveyor trying to look old and mystical and yet hip at the same time. (sort of like Cher? Keith Richards?)  Dozens of them. Perhaps it’s an echo effect from Starbucks’s Teavana venture.  Or maybe they’ve been there all along and I’m just noticing.  At any rate, hot or cold, flavored or straight, Oprah’s Chai Latte or not, prepare to be offered tea more and more often.

DavidsonTea

 

 

Observation 9.  Greater Sales through Big Data.    Have you heard this term before:  ‘big data’?  Of course you have.  Not to be confused with ‘Satisfying Customers through Big Data‘ (more on that later).  The restaurant business is increasingly swimming in POS data, and LOTS of companies are trying to use it to help restaurants pry every last dollar from your wallet.

Essentially it comes down to driving traffic, increasing loyalty, up-selling, and above all, getting you to buy more high-margin beverages.  You out there, experimenting with different restaurants and learning about different food cultures?  Well, STOP IT!  Do you want to be just average, or do you want to be LOYAL?  Yes, a restaurant-centric, not consumer-centric way of looking at things.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 9.56.30 PM

One loyalty company called Paytronix allows operators to send geofenced messages (it is what it sounds like), lets them pay for food with their phones, and more.  Just when we thought our ability to actually communicate with each other couldn’t get any worse, there are now even more distractions available.

Paytronix also models guest behavior to project potential high-value customers and nurture them. Which of course sounds familiar, since the casinos have been doing it for years.  Except you will never be comped drinks and a hotel room in a restaurant.

Observation 8.  Responsible/Local Sourcing – Whether it’s produce, protein or grains, where food comes from is increasingly getting attention.  However, it’s one thing to say it, quite another to do it on a meaningful scale.  As Chipotle found out recently when they faced a shortage of ‘responsibly raised beef’, reducing your supply options means the margin for error shrinks as well.

HydroponicsScreen Shot 2014-05-22 at 5.10.14 PM

 

Observation 7.  Mobile to help back office.  Could there be a less sexy title?  Doubtful.  The point here is rather than ‘mobile’ being a buzzword but not really ready for primetime, Mobile is starting to be leveraged in a way totally relevant to the frenetic nature of hospitality.

One startup, Partender, has developed a mobile app to get real-time inventory updates for the bar area.  In the bar business, making money is a lot about tightly controlling inventory to keep service levels high, while making as much cash available for the important stuff: hiring trick bartenders like Tom Cruise.

Seriously, I saw this app at work and it is slick, intuitive, and totally appropriate for the use.  When inventory is sitting on the shelves, it’s hard to input with a fixed desktop or laptop.  Mobile is increasingly adding real value where it makes sense..

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 5.15.48 PM

Observation 6.  Plant-Based Dinnerware – compostable products have been around a while; this year there were more products that were plant-based.  Specifically, companies like World Centric and Vegware offer tableware, utensils, napkins, hot/cold cups, to-go packages and more made from things like sugar cane, wheat straw, and corn.  As volume increases, costs will come down and you’ll see more of this approach.

energy-savings

…But wait – – Now you can also get utensils that you can not only eat with, but that you can EAT.  Foodie Spoon offers a selection of different serving shapes (spoons, cones, shapes) that you can put stuff on, and then eat the whole thing.  Think of a mini-me taco.

FoodieSpoon
So next time you’re at a party and a waiter offers you an elegant canapé on a spoon, amaze your friends and chomp the whole thing down.  (But maybe check first.)

THAT’S IT FOR OBSERVATIONS 6-10.   COMING SOON:  THE TOP 5, which promises to be even more exciting.

In the meantime, a few bonus experiences from the show:

Silpat Girl

Silpat Girl

Espresso Cheese!

Espresso Cheese!

Stay tuned!