(Rodger Macuch/Coca-Cola via AP)

Its ingredient list, down to the aspartame, is identical to that of the old Coke Zero.

But Zero Sugar has something that neither Coke Zero nor Diet Coke have had before: the advantage of being a low-calorie drink — without the stigma of the “diet” label.

That label has been on the outs for years, despite consumers’ demonstrated interest in avoiding added sugars. And it’s no secret that Coca-Cola — as well as Pepsi and a number of other soda brands — have struggled to rebrand, reformulate or remarket diet soda’s way back into the hearts and cups of consumers.


Between 2005 and 2016, American consumption of diet soda dropped more than 27 percent, according to Beverage Digest data published by Business Insider. Of all the losses in the soft-drink category since 2010, 94 percent have come from diet soda.

In recent years, the most afflicted brands were Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke.

The reasons for the decline of diet are many, though most analysts suspect the root lies in growing consumer skepticism of artificial sweeteners. A number of recent studies have suggested — though not established — a link between diet soda and disease, including stroke and dementia.

On top of those legitimate scientific concerns, the urban legends surrounding Diet Coke are legion. And there's been a general cultural shift away from explicit “diet” products — think Slimfast and Lean Cuisine — in favor of less-processed, “whole food” options.


To wit, bottled-water consumption hit a record high 39.3 gallons per capita last year, beating out soft drinks for the first time in modern history. Pepsi and Coke have also touted growth in juice, dairy, tea and other “better-for-you” categories.

In a conference call Wednesday, Coca-Cola chief executive James Quincey acknowledged the rebranding of Coke Zero was the latest part of that push.

“It is a reinvention of Coke Zero,” he said, in comments reported by Reuters. “It is about helping the zero-calorie part of the portfolio grow.”

Read more:

The soda industry is discovering what the future of Diet Coke looks like (and it isn't pretty)

Americans were cutting back on sugary drinks. Now that's stopped.

Why Pepsi's decision to ditch aspartame isn't good for soda — or science