As consumers across the country are embracing healthier foods, PepsiCo announced that it’s removing aspartame, the controversial artificial sweetener in its popular Diet Pepsi soft drink. The company says it is switching to a sucralose-based sweetener, better known as Splenda, an artificial sweetener the company believes is less controversial than aspartame and could help declining sales rebound.
According to the Wall Street Journal, PepsiCo says the brave move comes because consumer surveys reveal concern over the effects of aspartame as the top reason people are giving up their soda habits. “The new sweetener is a blend of sucralose and acesulfame potassium that will be used in Diet Pepsi, Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi and Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi in the U.S. beginning in August.” The new sweetener formulation “was developed after extensive research and testing with U.S. diet cola drinkers,” the company said in a statement.
While regular sodas have been in the hot seat for some time because of their excessive sugar content, artificial sweeteners are also earning their fair share of criticism for side effects that run the gamut from tinnitus and headaches to cancer and even weight gain. Diet Pepsi has seen more than a 5 percent sales drop just in the last year. Aspartame has been controversial since its development in 1965, but its prevalence in a number of foods from chewing gum to yogurt to diet soft drinks, led consumers to believe it was risk-free. But according to the FDA, it’s the number one product the agency receives complaints about.
“Volumes for artificial sweeteners, an estimated $2 billion market, have been declining in the U.S. and Western Europe since about 2008,” reports the Journal. “From that time, aspartame, the third-largest artificial sweetener in the world by volume has seen its volumes decline 2% annually in North America.”
And while PepsiCo thinks it may be offering its customers (or former customers) what they want, moving from one artificial sweetener to another isn’t likely to earn the brand praise—or even new fans. In fact, it may cost PepsiCo more business as the addition of Splenda will alter the flavor of the soda. But the company is committed to its move, and appears to even be hopeful that it can sway some Diet Coke customers concerned about aspartame. In a statement, Seth Kaufman, a senior vice president of PepsiCo North America Beverages, said: “Diet cola drinkers in the U.S. told us they wanted aspartame-free Diet Pepsi and we’re delivering.”
Recently, a consumer advocacy group petitioned the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration about the word “diet” on sugar-free sodas. Right to Know, the group that filed the petitions claims that use of the word “diet” is actually misleading because the sugar-free soft-drinks don’t actually encourage weight loss. In fact, recent studies have linked diet soda consumption with weight gain. Chemicals in artificial sweeteners including both aspartame and sucralose, were shown to alter bacteria in the gut, which can trigger higher blood glucose levels, putting individuals at risk for diabetes.