Diet Rite Switches Sweeteners

Diet Rite soft drinks are packing new sweeteners in a bid to reverse the brand's prolonged sales slide by giving consumers an alternative to what they are getting in the major low-calorie sodas. The brand's owners have replaced the aspartame commonly used in diet drinks with a blend of acesulfame K and sucralose. Diet Rite says the blend makes its cola and flavored drinks taste more like sugared sodas, leaves no aftertaste and lasts longer on the store shelves.

Industry watchers say it also gives the nearly 40-year-old brand something to talk about as it competes for consumers' attention with the sugar-free heavyweights backed by deep-pocketed rivals Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola and Cadbury Schweppes.

"This is the only major diet soft drink in the country without aspartame," said Jeffrey Spencer, senior vice president of marketing for Royal Crown Co., a unit of Triarc Beverage Group (White Plains, NY).

He said the company wasn't suggesting there is anything wrong with aspartame although he noted that beverages with the ingredient must carry a cautionary note for people with the rare genetic disease phenylketonuria.

Although this combination is unique, other soft drinks use sweeteners other than aspartame. Pepsi-Cola Co., for example, uses a blend of ace-K and aspartame in Pepsi One introduced in late 1998. Coca-Cola Co. added ace-K to the aspartame in its Diet Cherry Coke, Diet Sprite and Fresca brands in 1999. Royal Crown already uses sucralose as the lone sweetener in its Diet RC Cola, a sister brand to Diet Rite. Diet RC, which is available in less than half the country, saw its sales surge 33% last year, Spencer said.

Diet Rite shipments containing the new blend are expected to reach stores in 90% of the U.S. by the end of March 2000.

Edited by Scott Hegenbart