Dr Pepper Ten. Coke's short-lived C2. Many soda brands have tried to create a lower-calorie version of their standard product. The latest? Pepsi Next, launching this week. It's got 60% less sugar than a standard Pepsi, with both sucralose and aspartame to pick up the sweetening slack.
Pepsi sent us over a few cans to get a first taste. (With a card congratulating us on being some of "the first 100 people in America to taste Pepsi NEXT!", despite the fact that there is no way in the world this is true.)
First of all—full-sugar, cane sugar, or diet—there's no mistaking the taste of Pepsi, all of the guinea pigs in our informal office tasting agreed. "This is definitely Pepsi, rather than Coke," several said. Its characteristic sweetness was there.
But people disagreed on exactly where on the Pepsi – Diet Pepsi spectrum Pepsi Next fell. "If you told me that this was regular Pepsi, I'd believe you," said one diet soda drinker. No one would mistake it for a full-on diet. A soda agnostic in the office, loyal to neither full-sugar nor diet drinks, agreed that it could be a non-diet soda. Ever-rigorous Kenji set up a triangle test between Next and regular Pepsi, trying to determine whether he could tell them apart. (He couldn't.) When he ran it on me, I was able to pick out which soda was different—but thought the Next was regular Pepsi. Others, when told what they were drinking, thought they tasted what Max termed "a slick of gross"—something that indicated it wasn't just sugar or corn syrup sweetening things up. But he did know what he was drinking.
Really, though, the question isn't whether a regular soda drinker can fool himself in a blind test; it's whether people who want to buy a half-calorie soda will be happy with what they get. And who would that be? Those who are hyper-sensitive to aspartame—or really, even to the suggestion of aspartame—might not be won over by Pepsi Next. But if you're a sugary soda drinker, ready and willing to make the transition to diet? Or just an occasional soda drinker who wouldn't mind a few fewer calories? Maybe you're who Pepsi Next is looking for.