PepsiCo has tweaked its US sweetening formula for Diet Pepsi to include acesulfame potassium as well as aspartame, a combination that Ajinomoto admitted today would boost the cola's sweetness potency.
The Associated Press recalled summer reports that PepsiCo was planning the US switch to prevent the taste degrading over time – since until now Diet Pepsi has been sweetened with aspartame alone, rumors that the beverage giant declined to comment on in August.
At the time, one unnamed source told this publication that aspartame in isolation was sensitive to heat (especially during hot summer months) and amino acids in the sweetener could break down, leading to a loss of beverage flavor.
PepsiCo spokeswoman Andrea Canabal told The Washington Post that Diet Pepsi using the new formulation began appearing this month, in New York, Omaha (NEB) and the Bay Area.
Today, an Ajinomoto spokeswoman told BeverageDaily.com that all the successful cola brands worldwide were sweetened with aspartame, either 100% or in a high aspartame blend, and that the firm had data showing that if brands moved away from aspartame-rich blends sales fell.
“Aspartame has proven to be the sweet taste that people prefer by far in low and no sugar beverages and other products,” she said.
Sweetness ‘bang for buck’
It stood to reason that adding a sweetener that tasted less good than aspartame as was never going to make a product taste better, she added.
“However, adding a very small amount of acesulfame-K [acesulfame potassium] as a blend with aspartame does increase the sweetness potency (more sweetness ‘bang for your buck’),” she added.
Brands sweetened with high aspartame blends (with acesulfame-K) like Pepsi Max, had proven to be highly successful worldwide, including in the UK, the spokeswoman said.
“For example, in the UK, low calorie/diet brands now account for more than 60% of all cola volume purchased through major retailers, and sales show that the calorie-free sweet taste that people prefer is delivered by colas sweetened by aspartame-rich blends.”
Breakdown issue real?
Another US-based industry source, who declined to be named, told this publication that he was surprised by rumors that PepsiCo had chosen to reformulate with Ace-K on stability grounds, since Diet Pepsi using aspartame alone had been sold in the American Deep South for 25 years.
“Brands wouldn’t deliver a product that was not going to perform properly. If stability were such an issue then consumers simply wouldn’t have drunk Diet Pepsi,” he said.
“There wouldn’t be any product on the market in these warm climates if this were such an issue."
So were there other issues at stake?
“There are probably some efficiencies involved in having similar formulations everywhere, I think that’s perhaps more of an issue than stability," he said.
“If I were a big company, I could certainly get efficiencies on my sweeteners by making this move. But in fact the impact on aspartame, since it used as the hugely predominant sweetener, is probably quite negligible.”