Monday, January 10, 2011

Throw back some real sugar

On their Facebook Page, Pepsi Canada today announced the January 24th launch of "Pepsi Throwback" a limited-edition offering in a retro can with real sugar.

Does anyone else think this is a branding mistake?

Ever since the big pop brands switched from cane sugar to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) back in the 80s, many health advocates have claimed that it made the obesity epidemic worse.  The science behind this has been a little dodgy at times, but last year's study on rats at Princeton — which compared weight gain between groups given sugar water compared to groups give watered-down HFCS — found:

"The rats in the Princeton study became obese by drinking high-fructose corn syrup, but not by drinking sucrose. The critical differences in appetite, metabolism and gene expression that underlie this phenomenon are yet to be discovered, but may relate to the fact that excess fructose is being metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely being processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles."

In short, they concluded: "Our findings lend support to the theory that the excessive consumption of high-fructose corn syrup found in many beverages may be an important factor in the obesity epidemic."

The debate will no doubt be ongoing, considering the mighty forces involved: big soda, the U.S. corn lobby, and everyone making a buck on the fact that HFCS is in so many packaged foods. (Look at the label. In Canada, it goes under the alias "glucose-fructose".)

But back to Pepsi. I'm going to assume that this is really a way to test market an HFCS-free formulation without freaking out the corn syrup industry. With the way things are going, it wouldn't be that surprising if HFCS continues to fall out of favour with health-conscious consumers.

But what if this really is just a "limited time offer"? By drawing consumers' attention to the "real sugar" in Pepsi Throwback, they are also drawing attention to the fact that what they've been selling you has something else in it — something less desirable. If I take off my food activist hat, and put back my adman fedora for a moment, I have to point out that this is bad for the overall brand.

Unless they make it a permanent change. Which I really hope they do.

UPDATE: According to The Consumerist, Pepsi in the USA announced that they will continue to produce the sugar version for as long as sales support it. So I can only assume the Canadian strategy is similar.

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