Coca-Cola changed the flavor of its soda in 1985 and enraged a nation. Now, the company is doing it again, risking another outcry. This time, it is changing the taste and look of one of its most popular soft drinks: Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, better known as Coke Zero, the diet spinoff that is supposed to closely resemble the sugary version of “classic” Coke.
Company officials said that the plan was to change the drink in such a way that it would “deliver an even more iconic Coke taste.”
Already, on social media, worry and apprehension greeted the impending change. Some consumers vowed to switch to other drinks, like Diet Dr Pepper, or threatened to turn to the drink of Coca-Cola’s archrival, Pepsi.
Others recalled the marketing debacle of 1985, when Coca-Cola unveiled “The New Coke,” a sweeter version of the original soft drink.
That change was an attempt to beat back the growing success of Pepsi, which was beginning to cut into Coca-Cola’s market share.
But consumers hated the New Coke. In June 1985, the company was getting 1,500 calls a day on its consumer hotline. In July 1985, after only three months, the company announced that it would restore the original Coca-Cola, now rebranded as “Coca-Cola Classic,” to store shelves. “If that is what the consumer wants, that is what we will give him,” Charles Millard, chairman of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New York, said after the about-face.
This time around, the change is not likely to cause the same sort of backlash, despite some of the early grumbling, said Doug Bowman, professor of marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.
“This is a strategy where Coke is trying to stay ahead of the market,” he said.
In its statement, the company said the new change “optimizes existing Coca-Cola Zero Sugar flavors and existing ingredients.” Though the company did not say what that process would look like, it promised on social media that it would not change the ingredients, which include carbonated water, caramel color, phosphoric acid, aspartame, caffeine and potassium benzoate.