Coca-Cola is a well-known beverage to everybody. Coke products could be found in over 200 countries worldwide, with consumers downing more than 1.8 billion company beverage servings each day. The leading company in soft drink market is The Coca-Cola Company, followed by PepsiCo, and Dr Pepper Snapple Group (the owner of RC Cola). As there are many different options for Cola-like soft drinks in supermarkets, consumer choice is very often lead by the brand rather than flavor. Could you tell the difference between Coca-Cola, RC Cola, and Pepsi, for example? Would you recognize those products in blind testing?
Soft drinks are known as unhealthy food to consume, mainly due to the high sugar and acid content. In order to enable people who really love the flavor of Cola-like drinks to enjoy them without any guilt, all main producers have developed different low calorie alternatives. The calories are reduced to almost zero, with all the sweetness of the product coming from artificial sweeteners (e.g. aspartame, acesulfame potassium). The most known products are Coca-Cola Light, Coca-Coca Zero and Pepsi Max. Starting from 2015, a new product called Coca-Cola Life can be found in markets around the globe. It is claimed to be a healthier version of Coca-Cola as it contains only 60 % of calories of classic Coke. In addition to sugar, it contains a natural sweetener stevia, so the sweetness and taste overall should be the same as Coca-Cola.
The companies claim that the flavor of artificially sweetened Cola-like products essentially stays the same, but is that truly the case?
To answer all those questions and to get a good overview of different Cola-like products in Estonian market Esensorics software was used. Nine different Cola-like soft drinks were included in the study.
Sensory application “Nappl” by Esensorics was used by Cola-drinkers who participated in the study. The taste description chart of the samples used can be seen below.
The most similar product to Coca-Cola by taste is Coca-Cola Life. This is great news for Coca-Cola producers, because this similarity makes the new product more appealing for the consumer. RC Cola and Pepsi Cola are not too far behind, but it can be clearly seen that RC Cola is more sour, and Pepsi Cola is relatively sweeter.
Our results clearly answer the questions asked: all the Cola-like drinks with artificial sweeteners have a different taste! They all have well recognizable artificial sweetener and bitter taste. They are also perceived as being sweeter than Coca-Cola, but overall taste is lighter and could even be described as watery.
Nappl app by Esensorics provides a rapid snapshot of a group of samples – how similar or how different they are. With the use of descriptive terms, information about the nature of the differences can be gained. It provides a picture – a consensus map – of how the selected sodas sit in a two dimensional space, using the data from all assessors to make this picture.
The preference of the tested products was also assessed in our blind test. The results show that products with artificial sweeteners were the least liked. In addition to that, Coca-Cola Life was perceived as appealing as original Coca-Cola, because there was almost no difference in overall likeness of those products.
Taste testers preference during blind test
The author of this article is not affiliated with any company or product tested in this article.
Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Light, Coca-Coca Zero, Coca-Cola Life are registered trademarks of The Coca-Cola Company.
Pepsi Cola, Pepsi Max are registered trademarks of The PepsiCo Inc.
RC Cola is registered trademark of the Royal Crown Cola International.
Dr Pepper is registered trademark of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc