The Coke Zero Craze

Monday, July 14, 2008 - 4:16pm

By Donna Feldman, MS, RD

With soft drink sales declining, as consumers switch to bottled water, teas, and energy drinks, what does the world’s No. 1 beverage company do? Create another soft drink--Coke Zero. Sales of Coke Zero, introduced in 2005, have surged recently thanks to some clever marketing that plays up a cool, edgy, youthful image. But consumers don’t drink the image for long, so there must be more to Coke Zero than clever marketing.

What’s the Difference?

The one clear difference between Coke Zero and Diet Coke is the taste. Diet Coke, sweetened only with aspartame, is less sweet-tasting than regular Coke Classic, and has it’s own distinctive flavor. Coke Zero was sweetened and flavored to mimic Classic as closely as possible, using two artificial sweeteners: aspartame and acesulfane potassium. For consumers who like Coke Classic, but who also want to cut calories, Coke Zero is the obvious choice. They don’t have to settle for a taste they don’t like in order to control calories. As Scott Williamson, Coca Cola spokesperson says “Taste is the cause of it’s success”. As in most things dietary, consumers aren’t willing to sacrifice taste to cut calories. They want both. In Coke Zero, they get the Classic taste with about 2 calories per 12-oz can, rather than 150.  For a person who drinks just one can a day, this is a savings of over 1000 calories per week.

Men vs. Women

Many web commentaries about Coke Zero presume the drink is targeted to men, who supposedly don’t respond favorably to the word “Diet” on a product. So are men the primary Coke Zero drinkers? Not according to Williamson, who says men and women are buying it in pretty equal numbers. The truly significant purchasing difference is in age groups. Thanks to the recent web-based marketing efforts, Coke Zero is appealing to the tech-savvy younger crowd of calorie-conscious consumers. The funniest example is a video that features Coca Cola executives talking to unsuspecting lawyers about suing their own employees for “taste infringement”. The video, available on the Coke website, succeeds in playing up the taste similarities between Coke Zero and Coke Classic.

What about the Sweeteners?

Both aspartame and acesulfane K are low-calorie, artificial sweeteners.  Consumers who dislike these types of products probably won’t like Coke Zero any better than Diet Coke or any other low calorie drink. But for calorie-conscious people who still want a flavored, carbonated beverage, Coke Zero represents another option that won’t add to the hips or waistline. For Coke Classic fans, cutting calories is now easier.


Excess calories don’t have a place in our weight-conscious world, but consumers won’t settle for low-calorie products that don’t deliver taste. Coke Zero is an example of a product designed to address both those demands. Our one-can-a-day person saves 1000 calories a week, and 52,000 calories in a year, by switching to Coke Zero. This could add up to a 15-pound weight-loss over that year, thanks to one simple change. Now if only someone would invent Burger Zero…


4.    Scott Williamson and Joan Kennear RD, personal communication, (December 2007).

*This article is intended for general information purposes only, is not individual-specific, nor is it intended to replace the advice of your healthcare team.