June 12, 2005

Coke Nemesis: Coca-Cola Zero

C0So here’s yet another post in which I sound like a shill for the Coca Cola company. Can I help it that I am a recovering Coke Classic addict?

There is a new Coca Cola in town. Julie and Maggie brought some back from the market this weekend. None of us had heard of the stuff. It’s called Coke Zero and it is billed as “the taste of Coke, with zero calories.”

It’s Not Diet Coke

I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t that already Diet Coke?” Actually, no.

I didn’t realize this until recently, but Diet Coke isn’t a no-calorie version of good old Coke. It’s a different formula altogether. It seems obvious now, but it didn’t occur to me before. I always assumed that it tasted different because of the sweetener.

When Diet Coke was first created, it became a huge hit. At the same time, Pepsi was gaining on Coke sales and beating it in blind taste tests. The only thing happening to Coke customers was that some were switching to Diet Coke. The Coca-Cola company responded with New Coke, otherwise known as the sugar version of the wildly popular Diet Coke (sweeter, tasted more like Pepsi and won in all the taste tests). The move made good business sense.

But you know how that story ends1.

Today, the Diet Coke cans still have the same logo that New Coke had (instead of the script Coca-Cola font). And the same flavor as New Coke (instead of the Classic formula).

Coke Evil (i.e. C2) was the first (as far as I can tell) reduced-calorie soda with the flavor of Coca-Cola Classic. Which explains why I liked it so much.

And now, about a year or so after Coke Evil debuted, we now have a no calorie version of C2 - that is, we finally have a the Coke Classic formulation with absolutely no sugar.


How the heck does it taste?

The first thing I noticed about Coke Zero is that it smells like Coca-Cola Classic. The second thing I noticed is that it tastes a heck of a lot like Coke Evil.So much so that I had to check the ingredients again to verify that it was claiming no sugars in the formula. It has strong flavors of nutmeg and vanilla, as opposed to Diet Coke’s sweet overtones and citrusy undertones.

It gets my “thumbs up.” According to Julie, it’s better than C2.

What Is It?

What makes it taste so good? As far as I can tell - it’s the formula.

The sweeteners are the same ones that have been in other drinks: aspartame and acesulfame K. These sweeteners work together, apparently, to mask their own aftertastes.

So I’m guessing that the sweeteners aren’t the breakthrough so much as they’ve finally really decided to make a Diet Coke Classic.


The soft drink business must love numbers. We’ve got “Coke Zero,” “Pepsi One” and “C2.” Oh - and New Coke was renamed “Coke II” when it was on its way out.

What’s going to happen to all these different Coke sub-brands? Is C2 superfluous now, or is the presence of sugar a selling point that differentiates it? Coke Zero seems to be a nemesis to all the different diet sodas already in the Coke line.

Even more confusing: recently, Diet Coke changed its formulation. It now tastes better than before with the introduction of Splenda. I was issued a checkout coupon for Diet Coke with Splenda the other day while buying some Pepsi One (with Splenda). The coupon reads “Taste the newest member of the family” which confuses the hell out of me because Diet Coke has had Splenda for at least a week, and this weekend is the first I’ve seen of Coke Zero. I’m afraid that implies (to me) that like C2 last year, Coke Zero is not yet accepted into the family.

When C2 was introduced, it was first only available in 20 oz. bottles. Then cans only. Finally, in 2 liter bottles. Right now Coke Zero is only in the local stores in 20 oz. size. It was on sale at Stop and Shop so, of course, I went back there and bought a bunch.

I like it better than the too-sweet Diet Coke. So, of course, I expect them to stop making it eventually, once I am good and attached to it.

Do you think Coke is crazy for releasing all these sub brands? Are they going to let the market decide? Do you not care at all, perhaps? Have you tried Coke Zero? Let me know what you think, in comparison to C2 and Diet Coke.

I tell you, if I can drink Coke Zero when I go to lunch or a movie, this diet thing is going to be easier than I thought.

(P.S. Fresca is still better with pretzels, though)

1 For those of you too young to remember, New Coke bombed, even though it taste-tested better. There was a huge backlash against it because the Coca-Cola company stopped making old Coke. (The thinking being that two Cokes would split the market share and allow Pepsi to claim it was more popular than Coke). People were furious, until they finally brought back old Coke as “Coca-Cola Classic.” Eventually, New Coke became “Coke II” and then disappeared entirely, because people were embarrassed to like it. Now you can only get its flavor in (still wildly popular) Diet Coke.

Posted by James at June 12, 2005 10:26 PM
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My favorite C2 silliness was that when it was introduced in cans it came in 9 packs instead of 12 packs. The price wasn't any less than a 12 pack just 3 fewer cans. Bastards! They seem to have corrected that problem recently (or maybe I stopped paying attention).

Posted by: B.O.B.(bob) at June 13, 2005 8:06 AM

I liked the original Coke, and I like Coke Classic. Everything else in the coke family has been unacceptable to my palate. C2 was like a slimy Tab cola to me. I don't expect Coke Zero to be any different, but I will give it a try.

Posted by: Chuck S. at June 13, 2005 8:19 AM

Oh wait I guess that's not true... I like Cherry Coke, and sorta liked Vanilla Coke.

Posted by: Chuck S. at June 13, 2005 8:20 AM

Chuck, Original Coke is Coke Classic.

I don't remember Tab well enough to compare it to C2, but I will get back to you on their possible similiarities when I have a chance to do a side-by-side.

Julie likes Tab, so maybe she can chime in on that.

If you don't like C2, I doubt you will like Coke Zero. I don't detect any sliminess, but obviously it's a subjective thing. I think Julie liked it better because she considers efforts to mix sugar with artificial sweeteners to be largely unsatisfactory.

But your comments are why I wonder about the target audience for Coke Zero. Coke claims the target is young people who don't drink Diet Coke. In other words, that's where they hope to pick up new "users." Among the people I know who have tried it, people have liked the stuff. Which is also generally true of the flavor of C2, but C2 isn't for people like diabetics and a lot of people didn't see the point. I think many people wanted a no calorie beverage.

Posted by: James at June 13, 2005 8:39 AM

I love Tab. Hasn't been the same since they took out the saccharine though (the same is true of Fresca). It (tab) tastes nothing like any other cola that I've tried.

Posted by: B.O.B.(bob) at June 13, 2005 10:06 AM

I started drinking Diet Coke to save calories and over the years I've come to prefer it slightly over classic Coke. Most other people I know feel the opposite way.

Mmmm... vanilla Coke. Reminds me when I was 16 and spent a summer washing dishes at the Howard Johnson's in Hyannis. A shot of vanilla syrup would make any soda taste great.

Posted by: Mike at June 13, 2005 10:35 AM


Vanilla syrup rocks.

Maggie and I used to add pure vanilla extract to Coke Classic back when we both drank the stuff way too much.

Posted by: James at June 13, 2005 11:08 AM

I was a Pepsi kid. My childhood best-friend' s dad worked for Pepsi and I practically lived at their house. In high school I was a Pepsi addict, drinking just under a 12 pack a day. With age I have managed to lessen my sugar and caffiene addictions (per doctors orders); I switched to Fresca. I love Fresca!

When I moved out this way my new job had a vending machine in the basement. The choices were Mt. Dew, Orange Crush, Pepsi, Diet Coke and Diet Coke with Lemon. I found the lemon flavoring in Diet Coke with Lemon to be too artificial. So, due to limited options at my previous job (we had a fridge, but if you left anything in it, it would be gone in a day) I am now back on Cola in the form of Diet Coke. I make my own Diet Cherry Cokes by adding maraschino cherries and their syrup to a glass of Diet Coke. The Coke filled cherries that remian at the bottom of your glass are the best!

James complaints about Diet Coke as compared to Coke made me understand why I like Diet Coke and hate Coke. James and I are cola-opposites. It's probably just a cola issue because we agree on Fresca.

Posted by: Sharon at June 13, 2005 11:22 AM

In fact, we are bitter rivals when it comes to stocking up on Fresca during the 12-pack sales at stop and shop. Whoever dies with the most Fresca 12 packs wins!

Now that you've commented, I'm thinking that I need a post on this wacky Irish "Coolwater" stuff we bought on sale for $.50 last week.

I'm still not quite sure how I feel about this stuff.

BTW - I bought one too many blackberry Coolwaters, and you're welcome to one of them.

Posted by: James at June 13, 2005 11:56 AM

Tab still has saccharin, although it now also has aspartame. I would prefer no aspartame at all. And needless to say, I would like Fresca a lot better if it had at least *some* saccharin.

I don't think Tab tastes anything like C2 OR Coke Zero. I agree with B.O.B. - it is in a class by itself.

Posted by: Julie at June 13, 2005 1:22 PM

I didn't realize Tab still had saccharine. You can tell it has aspartame from the sickly sweet flavor and aftertaste. Saccharine alone had that nice tang. Kinda like it was saying "if you drink enough of me I'm gonna kill you!"

Posted by: B.O.B.(bob) at June 13, 2005 2:30 PM

I like a threatening soda. :-)

Posted by: Julie at June 13, 2005 2:59 PM

I've always been a Coke Classic fan, even though I have a tiny bit of Pepsi stock -- I always found Pepsi too sweet. Never got into New Coke, Vanilla Coke or any of the variants from either company, which were spoofed in a New Yorker humor piece a while back:

Something for everyone

Posted by: soxfan at June 13, 2005 4:27 PM

"Coke Grovestand?????"


Posted by: James at June 13, 2005 4:33 PM

Don't be coy. You know you want to try it.

I'm also curious about the Cool-Ranch Pepsi.

Mmmmm. Good sippin'.

Posted by: Julie at June 13, 2005 4:48 PM

Ewwwww! Cool ranch? *hurk!*

I may give Coke 0 a try. I like the caffeine, but not the calories.

Posted by: briwei at June 14, 2005 2:17 PM

I loved your posts about Coke Zero. I tried some yesterday and I LOVE IT!!! It tastes so much like regular Coke. The problem is, my taste buds are used to Diet Coke now, so if I get hooked back on the taste of regular Coke, and then they pull Zero from the market, I'll have to re-learn to like diet again. Bleah! I hope they keep Zero around - it really tastes great. Oh yeah, and I totally identify with what you mean when you couldn't believe you had to explain the whole New Coke thing to a young'un.

Posted by: CJ at June 16, 2005 2:30 PM

I took a bottle of Coke Zero to work today and was surprised at how many people asked me about it!

Posted by: Julie at June 16, 2005 3:11 PM


The rate at which I'm buying up bottles of Coke Zero, at our local supermarkets will be reporting back that there is high demand for the stuff.

So, hopefully we will not face the loss of Coke Zero. I fear, however, that the name is too trendy to last.

If it comes to it, we can always start a fan club, a website and start protesting if they try to get rid of Coke Zero. ;)

Posted by: James at June 16, 2005 3:43 PM

I work at one of these grocery stores, and dang...I love this stuff. Me and all my Safeway buddies are killin this stuff so fast that the Coke rep can't keep up with refilling it. I never drank Diet anything, tastes disgusting to me. I'd rather drink tonic water than Diet Coke. This stuff tastes just like Coke to me, and if it sticks around I'll never buy another Coke Classic again. If it tastes the same, why take in the calories? Problem is, it probably won't keep me from also buying Pepsi at times, as "buy whatever's on sale" will still dictate which brand I buy. Good stuff though, I am impressed it could be done. I give Pepsi several months to copy and come out with exactly the same thing if they haven't already (does Pepsi One taste like Pepsi?).

Posted by: Chris at June 22, 2005 3:43 AM

I'm just not much of a Pepsi fan, so I never really bothered to figure out whether Pepsi One actually tastes like Pepsi.

However, I have almost a whole 12-pack in my fridge at work that I'm willing to sacrifice. I bought it just before Coke Zero came out and I'm no longer interested in drinking it.

Posted by: James at June 22, 2005 7:51 AM

Hey, I tried Diet Coke with Splenda yesterday.

BLECH. Too sweet.

Posted by: Patti M. at June 22, 2005 8:43 AM

I tasted Tab and Coke Zero side by side the other night, and discovered that I was wrong - they do taste similar.

IMO, Coke Zero does taste a lot like Tab, but I don't think it could be mistaken for Tab. It also tastes a lot like regular Coke but not enough to be mistaken for that either. It is a decent compromise between the two, but I wasn't really looking for a compromise. I like Tab just the way it is.

If it were up to me, I'd rather they just rebranded Tab as Diet Coke/Coke Zero/Coke Lite or whatever and were done with it. But it seems more likely that Coke Zero will kill Tab. Bummer. :(

Posted by: Julie at June 22, 2005 11:45 AM

Hey if 20 years of diet coke couldn't kill Tab I doubt Coke 0 will. At least I hope not. Even though I can't find Tab in 12 packs only 6 packs so it rarely goes on sale.

Posted by: B.O.B.(bob) at June 22, 2005 12:16 PM

I am not a Tab fan, but I feel your pain. Or, I feel your fear that it might go away.

I think they're waiting for all the original drinkers to die off.

Posted by: James at June 22, 2005 1:37 PM

If they switched to all saccharin, maybe we'd die off faster.

Okay, I know that's not true. But still. Switching to all saccharin would not only restore the original flavor, but also distinguish it further from Coke Zero.

Sure, it's a dead horse, but I'm gonna keep hitting it. Maybe a genie will come out or something.

Posted by: Julie at June 22, 2005 2:07 PM

Let me know if you have any luck with that.

Posted by: James at June 22, 2005 3:00 PM

A genie springing from a dead horse? Sounds like a nightmare!

Posted by: Patti M. at June 22, 2005 3:47 PM

LOL, well, only if the horse is female, I guess. Er, in any case, just think how grateful the genie would be.

Posted by: Julie at June 22, 2005 3:53 PM

Coke Zero is the best combo of Classic Coke flavor without any calories or aftertaste (saccharin). I love the taste of Classic but can't stand all the empty calories the sugar adds.
I've liked Tab because it's been the closest thing, but now I'm gonna be hooked on Zero.

If you're looking for a Coke flavor without aftertaste and ZERO calories this is the one!!

Posted by: hondapartsman at June 24, 2005 8:04 PM

I tried Coke Zero this week, and I finally have to give them credit for finally getting a no-calorie Coke right.

I think Diet Coke will stick around...after being around so long, I'm sure people have finally acquired it's nasty taste.


Coke with Lime - probably a result of some Coke marketing guy travelling to France and noticed everyone there likes a lime in their Coke at the restaurant. On the flight back, he must have thought: "hmmm, Americans are too lazy to cut a lime and put in their glass...hey lets add some sythentic lime flavor and market it with some snazzy jingle..."

Posted by: Jay at June 25, 2005 5:38 PM

I'm drinking a Coke Zero now, and had my first one the other day. I really want to like it, since I've always preferred the Coke Classic taste to Pepsi, but don't like the oversweet blandness of Diet Coke--so I drink the better-flavored diet Pepsi. Coke Zero does taste more like Coke Classic, but....it has more, not less, of a bitter aftertaste to me than other diet colas. Am I the only one who says so?

Posted by: Jerry at June 30, 2005 4:44 PM

I think Tab is more bitter than Coke Zero. Other than that, I think they are all about the same as far as bitterness. Well, I'm not sure I'd even call it bitter. Bitteresque.

I agree with you about Diet Pepsi being better than Diet Coke, though.

Posted by: Julie at June 30, 2005 4:47 PM

I've always liked original coke regardless. I tried the new diet coke when it first came out in the 70's but threw it away after a couple of sips. I asked a coke man the other day, "what flavors are next?" He couldn't say but stated he preferred the classic coke without the odd flavors. Vanilla, cherry, what next, 70 flavors of coke?

Posted by: Daniel at July 3, 2005 1:55 AM

I am a die hard TAB drinker since 1973--but I do like the Coca Cola Zero almost as well. We did a taste test in the office and it was really hard to tell the difference. I have noticed that people in their 20's like the Zero when they refused to try TAB because it is "their mother's drink". Thank you Coca-Cola!

Posted by: Cindy at July 4, 2005 12:22 AM

Coca-Cola Zero is awesome considering it's a diet-like cola. It tastes almost exactly like Coke Classic to me but with a just a little bit of aspartame aftertaste. Great job, Coca-Cola!

Posted by: Chris at July 17, 2005 8:29 PM

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