Last week, my wife shared with me some rather alarming news: Coke Zero is being discontinued. As a man who has an arguably unhealthy attachment to his carbonated beverage of choice, this was panic-worthy.
You’ll forgive me for not trusting the Coca-Cola Company when they roll out replacement products with “new, improved taste.” After all, this is the same company that brought us New Coke1 in 1985. Last I heard, that was still used as a cautionary tale in Marketing 101 classes.
And you’ll also forgive me for not thinking of this as merely a re-branding of the Coke Zero product. The ingredients list may be the same, but they clearly claim to have “a new recipe.” So regardless of what anyone else says, Coke Zero in its current form is gone.
No big deal, though, right? I mean, announcements like this… they tend to be sensationalist. At the very least, I’ll certainly have several months to prepare myself psychologically.
The new cans and bottles, which will incorporate more red like regular Coke, will start hitting shelves in August 2017.
August 2017? Commence freak-out in three… two… one…
Lo and behold, at a Fred Meyer in Issaquah yesterday, my wife couldn’t find Coke Zero at all, but Coca-Cola Zero Sugar2 was there in spades. I naively figured that it would be a few more weeks before actual stores had switched over their stock, but I was wrong. My taste test would be happening a lot sooner than I’d expected.
My first observation about Coke Zero II (this is how I’ll refer to it from now on) is that it has a lot more red in the pack again and labels than Coke Zero. This isn’t too surprising. In fact, Coke Zero was an anomaly in food packaging since it was almost entirely black save for the white/red product name.
The new packaging has a much more obvious splash of red, and my initial reaction was that it reminded me of the True Blood packaging in season 1 of HBO’s eponymous show.3 The packaging isn’t entirely new, though; it looks very similar to the Coke Zero packaging introduced in Spain in 2015.
So how does it taste? In short, exactly like Coke Zero. I cannot tell any difference at all. At least not in the 1.25 liter plastic bottles, which is what I typically buy.4 Whatever they’re calling “new” and “improved” about the taste hasn’t had any effect as far as I can tell. In case it wasn’t obvious, that’s a good thing in my book.
Given that there’s no discernible taste difference between Coke Zero II and Coke Zero (to my palate, at least), my verdict is a resounding: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I mean, I’m happy that I don’t have to find a new soda, but I don’t understand the messaging around this new product. I’m about as far from a marketing expert as you can get, though, so what do I know?
Growing up in Papua New Guinea, I can remember when Pepsi’s slogan was, “It’s Pepsi in PNG.” It certainly ain’t Pepsi in PNG anymore, because I also remember when Pepsi completely pulled out of the country and one of my dad’s colleagues bought as many cases of Diet Pepsi as he could find.
Fortunately that won’t be my lot this time around, but I’m not holding my breath that Coca-Cola won’t take me for another roller coaster ride in the next few years.
I actually tried New Coke while I was in college. I came across a 24-pack of Coke II, which is how Coke re-branded their new formula in 1992, in a Jewel-Osco on the south side of Chicago. I don’t remember much about how it tasted, though I didn’t like it. It was too sweet for my tastes. But then, so is Coke Classic. ↩
That really just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? When someone at work offers to grab me a drink from the kitchen, I don’t think I’ll be able to ask for Coca-Cola Zero Sugar with a straight face. Same for ordering it in a restaurant. Oh, who am I kidding? This will never show up in restaurants. ↩
I spent way too long looking for screenshots of what the drink looked like in the show, but came up empty. My memory could very well be faulty, but that was my initial reaction nonetheless. ↩
It’s inexplicably cheaper per fluid ounce to buy 1.25 liter bottles than 2 liter bottles. I can’t explain it either. ↩