Less Than Zero

A little while ago, it was announced that Coca-Cola was getting rid of Coke Zero.

If you like your Coke Zero exactly the way it is now, it might be time to start stockpiling it.

On Wednesday, Coca-Cola announced plans to stop selling Coke Zero in the US in August, replacing it with a beverage with a different recipe, design, and name: Coke Zero Sugar.

A weird thing about it is that when I read Coke Zero Sugar I read it as Coke Zero with Sugar, rather than Coke with Zero Sugar. Or, put another way, (Coke Zero) Sugar, rather than Coke (Zero Sugar). The new logo helps with that a little bit, but still now it has the word “Sugar” in it and before it didn’t.

In any event, I took the article’s advice and stocked up.

It turns out, this was a bad idea.

One thing I sometimes forget is that unlike regular soft drinks, diet soft drinks go bad. They take on a bitter or acidic taste. This can happen over time, or whether stored in heat. Something to do with NutraSweet, my wife says.

Final Four… 2016

Another thing I hadn’t thought about is that when they’re swapping out a product, chances are they actually stopped making it at some point before so that they could have stock of the new stuff ready. Makes sense! But it also means that any of the original stuff you get is probably going to be closer than usual to the expiration date. At best. At worst, they apparently found some cans from 2016 at the bottom of some stockpile and decided “It’s now or never.”

The end result is that I have three cases of Coke Zero left that aren’t worth drinking. The one from 2016 is as bad as you would expect. The other two are from this year, but expired a few months ago and you can just start to taste it.

I’ve heard some pretty bad reviews of the new stuff, but it’s still likely to be an improvement.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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31 thoughts on “Less Than Zero

  1. I used to make jokes about how I wanted my Diet Pepsi to be made without real sugar instead of merely being made without HFCS and as soon as I saw “Coke Zero Sugar”, I thought “My God. The Madmen have done it.”

    On a more provincial level, I think that all Coke is doing is trying to come up with a naming convention that they can use worldwide. “Coke Zero Sugar” is likely a name that makes 100% sense in English-speaking countries that aren’t the US. Time for the US to get with the program.

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    • Coca-Cola is a customer of my company (not my account)… and you are right, they spend many hours, dollars, and flowers [needed a third] to get their naming conventions right – globally.

      In fact, a fruit fly dies every time someone refers to their product as Coke and not Coca-cola (with the hyphen, thank you).

      {Diet Coke is the exception that proves the rule… and someone somewhere is probably in Coca-cola jail for making Diet Coke a brand they can’t walk back}

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  2. Use it for cleaning the chrome on your car? I’ve heard the phosphoric acid in it is good for that.

    But yeah, I agree with the name not making a lot of sense. Parentheses would have helped, perhaps.

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  3. I am actually confused by why two different products – Diet Coke and Coke Zero (Sugar) – exist. Perhaps it’s as Marchmaine suggests and they are unhappy with the brand name of “Diet Coke” because it doesn’t translate well somewhere or another.

    Still, why are there two taps at self-serve fountain for diet colas?

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    • Coke Zero and Diet Coke did have different formulas and different tastes.

      My quick impression of the European market is that Diet Coke is called “Coke Light” (almost always untranslated too) but Coke Zero (where it was) was still Coke Zero (I think, I’m not sure now).

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    • Diet Coke and Coke Zero

      As I understand it, and this may be absolutely false, Diet Coke is derived from the “New Coke” formula (which was Coca-Cola’s most famous attempt to be more Pepsi than Pepsi), and thus tastes like…Diet Pepsi. Coke Zero, on the other hand, was derived from the Original Coca-Cola recipe, and thus tastes somewhat like…Coke.

      Of course the real problem is Coca-Cola feels they have a superior version of Pepsi (which seems to win blind taste tests against Pepsi) they that really want to use to eat into the Pepsi market, and does not seem to grasp that people have built in expectations of how Coke should taste, and “Not like Pepsi” is top of the list.

      (Specifically, they wanted to try to compete with Pepsi but didn’t want to spin off a new brand name, they wanted to keep their Coke drinkers, use the brand name, and leverage their way into the Pepsi side of the market. Didn’t work, for obvious reasons.)

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      • Morat20: Diet Coke is derived from the “New Coke” formula (which was Coca-Cola’s most famous attempt to be more Pepsi than Pepsi), and thus tastes like…Diet Pepsi.

        My Understanding is that it was the other way around.

        Diet Coke was developed first. It was intentionally developed as a sweeter, smoother drink because that’s what appealed to the diet-pepsi-drinking women whose business they were trying to gain. Then the high popularity of Diet Coke combined with the waning popularity of Coca Cola is what inspired the release of New Coke.

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        • Eh, same-same. Diet Coke doesn’t taste like non-diet Coke. Coke Zero tastes (or tasted at least) like a diet version of Coke.

          And Coca-Cola still hates the fact that people drink Pepsi and can’t understand why they can’t force their drinkers to love the sweeter taste so they can have their current market AND some of Pepsi’s.

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          • The whole “New Coke” episode is mind-boggling to me as a millennial, because the whole thing was caused by the Coke company being unwilling to come out with different cola flavors to appeal to customers with a different taste–to the extent to which they literally discontinued the best-selling soda beverage in the world.

            Meanwhile, i can go to the store and find separate packages of “Cherry Coke”, “Vanilla Coke”, and “Cherry Vanilla Coke”. I legit do not understand what the world was like in 1985.

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  4. One of my blessings is that I dislike all sweet drinks. My preferred form of caffeine intake is coffee or tea. Tea in particular is very affordable. I order a pound of the stuff online a few times a year. I don’t have to lug cases of mostly-water from the store, much less pay for said mostly-water. The only downside is the difficulty of getting a beverage at a time of day when I don’t want caffeine.

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  5. One thing I sometimes forget is that unlike regular soft drinks, diet soft drinks go bad. They take on a bitter or acidic taste. This can happen over time, or whether stored in heat. Something to do with NutraSweet, my wife says.

    There was a theory/urban legend that this is the mechanism behind Gulf War Syndrome – container boxes filled with Diet Coke baking in the desert sun and then given to the troops.

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  6. For whatever it’s worth, Will, I’m a regular drinker of Coke Zero, and I can’t taste the difference between the new stuff and the old stuff at all. I know they say they’ve changed the recipe, but to my taste buds it’s exactly the same drink.

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    • Same here. It’s a little less fizzy, and I can tell it’s not exactly the same, but I couldn’t tell you specifically what’s different.

      It makes sense that they’re globalizing the branding with it – if anything I’d say they’re also doing it with the flavor profile. That it’s the same basic product just less tuned to American tastes.

      I’m with Scalzi. Perfectly decent replacement, and soon enough you won’t even remember what the original Coke Zero tasted like.

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    • It is smoother, less harsh, which to my palate is a step down. It tastes closer to core Coca Cola which is doubtlessly the goal. I am mightily displeased with the new iteration and am taking the opportunity to transition back to water as my recreational beverage.

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  7. I’m fine with new stuff. It has tasted a bit different from a fountain but in a bottle it’s fine. At this point i’m at the ” was there ever a time before this was the normal taste” stage.

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  8. I wonder what concentrated artificial sweeteners taste like. Supposedly some of them are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. This is measured by testing the level of dilution at which sweetness can still be detected; a gram of aspartame requires 200 times as much water to conceal the sweetness as sucrose. But if you just ate straight aspartame, or drank a highly concentrated aspartame solution, would it really taste 200 times as sweet as sugar, or is the human brain just not set up to perceive sweetness at an intensity much greater than we perceive from sucrose or fructose syrup?

    Maybe it’s logarithmic, like hearing, so it would only be perceived as a couple of times sweeter.

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      • ‘Fraid not. I’ve never actually seen an artificial sweetener at a retail store that wasn’t cut with dextrose or some other kind of bulking agent.

        Edit: Also, I might get addicted. Maybe we were never meant to taste a sweetness so pure. Next thing you know, I’m living in the alley behind Denny’s, waiting for them to throw out some expired Sweet’N’Low packets.

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        • There’s the stevia based stuff – stevia’s not so insanely sweet it needs bulking up.

          Though I guess it’s not “artificial” as it’s just a plant extract, not chemically altered.

          (Edit: I guess the specific sweet tasting chemicals in stevia are in the same order as aspartame – 150 times as sweet as sucrose. The concentrated extract just has a bunch of other things, as it’s basically just dehydrated stevia tea.)

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  9. You all are missing a step. The original Diet Coke drink was called Tab. Oldsters like me remember the confusion when Diet Coke came out. Wasn’t Tab Diet Coke?

    Diet drink history: first marketed for diabetics back in the 50s, Diet Rite was the first brand name diet drink sold for regular consumption, in 1958. Coca Cola followed with Tab shortly after, but didn’t brand it as a diet Coke because they didn’t want to hurt their brand. Shortly afterwards, Diet Pepsi came out and revealed that brand worries were a bit overstated. I’m not sure why it took Coca-Cola another 20 years to come out with Diet Coke–they did Fresca first, in the mid-60s.

    But as someone said, Diet Coke is not based in any way on the original Coke. I don’t care for Coke, but love Diet Coke–it was pretty much my only soft drink for 30 years or so. Its instant success was what led to the New Coke fiasco. I think what CC didn’t understand is that Diet Coke drinkers weren’t necessarily Coke drinkers.

    Coke Zero is the original brand without sugar. I don’t care for it at all. But then, I don’t care for Coke that much, either. I don’t mind Diet Pepsi, but it’s nowhere near as good as Diet Coke.

    By the way, while tastes differ, Diet Coke stomps all other diet drinks in sales. Its competition is Pepsi proper, as the two of them duke it out for 2nd or 3rd place. Diet Pepsi is in 7th, Coke Zero in 10th.

    Then there’s the whole hooha about sweeteners and which is used in what brand, but that’s overkill.

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