Thirty years ago today, depending on which historian you talk to, Diet Coke made its somewhat inauspicious debut. But thirty years on, Diet Coke has become the second most popular soft drink in the world. Only Coca-Cola’s flagship Coke sells more.
In 1982, Diet Coke was introduced to the world as a diet soft drink, marketing it to consumers who were concerned about their waistlines. But according to Jezebel's Katie Baker, Diet Coke didn't become popular until it disassociated itself from Coca-Cola's diet drink, TaB. Baker recalled being sucked into the wild popularity of Diet Coke.
"I remember forcing myself to like Diet Coke as a teenager because I thought it was cooler than regular Coke," she said. "I'd drink it in the morning before high school in the parking lot, and I'd drink it in the dorms at college ... It was a really easy way to show you were living the tiniest bit on the edge, as that's ridiculous as that sounds, because it's diet soda."
After years of creative marketing and brand growth, Diet Coke even overtook Coke’s main rival, Pepsi, in sales.
Diet Coke was a favorite of President Bill Clinton before he reformed his notorious junk food diet, and it was also ubiquitous during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Although many nutritionists have made claims that the artificial sweetener aspartame is unhealthy, researchers have tried, without luck, to accurately measure just how unhealthy it is. Conversely, New York University professor Marion Nestle said that what surprises her is how little Diet Coke consumption has affected obesity rates.
"You would think that by cutting out the sugars that are in soft drinks people would have a lot easier time managing their weight," Nestle said. "But as it turns out, it looks like there's something in the Diet Coke that fools the brain into thinking that it's getting sugar, and that has an effect on metabolism that's very much like sugar and kind of messes things up."
Whether or not health factors into what beverage you choose to drink, the soda business has been hurting. John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, said that Coca-Cola has joined other big soda companies in conducting a massive amount of research on new sweeteners and sweetener technology to adapt to a change in the consumer's soda intake.
"The soda business has been down in the U.S. for the last seven years. Consumers are drinking less regular or sugar beverages and drinking less diet beverages. The U.S. consumer has shown an interest in diversifying their choices. They're drinking more bottled water, more sports drinks, more bottled and canned teas," he explained.
Do you drink Diet Coke? How has it changed your diet? And the beverage industry?
Katie Baker, writer for Jezebel, contributor for the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times
John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, a publication that publishes 22 regular issues a year covering the non-alcoholic beverage industry
Marion Nestle, professor, Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University; author of "Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics"