NEW YORK - What€™s the next best thing in soft drinks? Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are betting it€™s a soda with no calories or artificial sweeteners, and no strange aftertaste, the Associated Press reports. With localities toying with the idea of soda bans and soft drink taxes, the top soft drink makers are scrambling to develop the Holy Grail of soda.
"I can€™t say when it will be here, but it's in the reasonable future," said Al Carey, head of the beverage unit for the Americas at PepsiCo.
The problem is that soda€™s not-so-secret ingredient €" high-fructose corn syrup €" is also what makes it taste so delicious. Artificial sweeteners, while having no calories, have begun to be seen as not-as-good-for-you. Natural sweeteners hold a sweet promise, but then there€™s that aftertaste problem.
Stevia has been popular in orange juice and bottled teas, but its aftertaste is hard to camouflage in colas. Coke is in the midst of testing stevia and other natural sweeteners in beverages.
"Some of the very exciting (sweeteners) we're playing with are really small in terms of production and planting, and they need to be nurtured," said Katie Bayne, president of Coca-Cola€™s North American soda business.
Other companies already make stevia-based colas, such as Zevia. Its CEO, Paddy Spence, doesn€™t seem phased by Coke or Pepsi€™s looking into zero-calorie drinks. "When consumers see a brand all of a sudden with different positioning, they see right through that," he said. "They'll say 'you're a sugar soda company that has a couple different stevia products.€™"
New York City could ban sugared beverages larger than 16 ounces in stadiums, theaters and restaurants as soon as March, while the mayor of Cambridge, Mass., pushed a similar ban in June. Across the country in Richmond, Calif., residents will vote in November on a penny-per-ounce tax on sugared beverages, including soft drinks, teas and fruit juices. Meanwhile, the El Monte, Calif., City Council voted this week to put before voters in November a proposal for a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened drinks sold within city limits.