Pepsi's latest soft drink is being marketed as having 30 per cent less sugar than the leading cola drinks. For Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute, and author of The Diet Fix, that change in formula doesn't go far enough.
"This is a slightly less bad version of a terrifically bad product," the Ottawa doctor said.
Pepsi Next launched in Canada a few weeks ago in Vancouver, where the company handed out samples and gave away tickets to the Heritage Classic game, while shooting a commercial.
There's a good reason why Pepsi is launching this particular product right now.
"So there’s no question that society is now critical of products that are higher in sugar. We know that the writing is on the wall for sugar sweetened beverages specifically because they provide a huge number of calories to the average Canadian and American and no benefit to them," Freedhoff said.
Profits from soda sales are declining, both Pepsi and Coca-Cola recently reported their sales figures had taken a hit. Consumers are buying fewer carbonated sweet drinks and redirecting that money into other sweet sources: sports and energy drinks.
In an attempt to prop up their flagship sodas, companies are trying to find a middle ground, designing drinks with less sugar to appeal to consumers who are wary of sweeteners. In Canada, a can of Pepsi Next has 26 grams of sugar or about six and a half teaspoons, which is less than the more than 10 teaspoons in a can of regular Pepsi.
But the World Health Organization recently recommended less than five per cent of daily caloric intake should come from sugar. That five per cent is about six teaspoons, or approximately what is in that can of Pepsi Next.
Freedhoff says this is all about marketing, and as consumers, we fall for it.
"I think people do buy in to these sorts of endeavours. I think the less bad for you products, which are marketed as good for you or healthier is a huge component of current product placements in every aisle of the grocery store including the beverage aisle. So we are all hoping to have our cake and eat it – literally and figuratively."
Interestingly, Pepsi Next in Canada is completely different from Pepsi Next in the U.S. Here, it’s 30 per cent less sugar with the addition of a plant-based sweetener called stevia. But American Pepsi Next drinkers are getting a soda with 60 per cent less sugar and a mix of two artificial sweeteners.
"Pepsi Next is, I think, fairly described as ‘less bad sugared soda’," Freedhoff said. "But the key there being it’s still bad, it’s still sugared soda. It provides no particular nutritional benefits beyond energy and we are not a population that suffers from not getting enough energy."