Is PepsiCo’s Diet Pepsi due for a change?

The world’s #2 carbonated soft drink maker PepsiCo may be mulling a change in the recipe for its Diet Pepsi cola sold in the US, according to an Associated Press report from today. But the soda maker is confirming no such plan.

PepsiCo is reportedly testing different artificial sweeteners, as the current one it uses, aspartame, loses taste potency faster than high fructose corn syrup, which is found in non-diet sodas. That’s because aspartame is more sensitive to the heat and jostling of storage and shipment. In its stead, PepsiCo is said to be testing a mix of artificial sweeteners that have a longer shelf life.

In the soft drink industry, altering the recipe of a well-established brand can be risky business. Archrival The Coca-Cola Company knows all too well the pains caused by changing its formula. Consumer backlash drove the cola giant to reintroduce its original formula in 1985 after it had launched New Coke; at the time then PepsiCo-USA president Roger Enrico had called it ”the Edsel of the 80’s.”

To be fair, in this case PepsiCo is not contemplating launching an entirely new recipe. In fact, the company is in somewhat familiar territory as it has swapped sweeteners in its beverage products before. Brands like Diet Mountain Dew and Diet Sprite have undergone similar sweetener switchups in the last decade or so.

Still, Diet Pepsi may in fact be due for a change as PepsiCo tries to regain some market share lost to Coca-Cola in recent years. Diet Pepsi’s US sales volume, as reported in Beverage Digest, slipped 8% in 2011, double that of Diet Coke (also an aspartame-only cola) and the largest decline on the list of top 10 carbonated soft drink labels. Diet Pepsi and regular Pepsi came in seventh and third on the list, while Diet Coke and regular Coke took second and first place, respectively. Coke bumped Pepsi from the top spot in 2010. PepsiCo launched a global advertising campaign in early 2012 spotlighting the Pepsi brand, which generates more than $20 billion in annual sales worldwide.

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