Hopping on the cane sugar bandwagon — like Jones, Boylan, and many other "gourmet" soda brands — Pepsi has announced a more "natural" version of their flagship cola beverage: Pepsi Raw. Except that it's debuting in the United Kingdom.
According to UK news agency The Press Association (and first discovered in a trademark filing back in October 2007), Pepsi is pitching this drink as a "natural, more healthy" option, first debuting at selected clubs and bars in various cities, including London, Manchester, Glasgow, Brighton, Birmingham, Leeds, and Liverpool. This would seem to indicate that the drink is initially being positioned for use in mixed drinks. Its packaging in a glass bottle also would note a more upscale product.
The ingredient list, as reported, includes apple extract, plain caramel coloring, coffee leaf, tartaric acid from grapes, gum arabic from acacia trees, cane sugar, and sparkling water. The color of the drink itself will be lighter and carbonation is reduced.
This release seems to capitalize on the trend that we've been seeing here in the United States, basically the backlash against high fructose corn syrup. Personally, I didn't know any different until I had my first taste of Kosher for Passover Coke. Since then, I've been a big proponent of the use of real sugar in carbonated soft drinks, mainly from a taste perspective. Soda is not healthy. It never will be. So when you are looking at drinks like this, it's more of an issue of which is "somewhat better" for you in regards to calories, chemicals used, and the like. We've seen the smaller soda pop manufacturers go the cane sugar route mainly as a differentiator, setting themselves apart from Coke and Pepsi, while at the same time justifying a higher per bottle cost because of the better use of ingredients.
Make no mistake, despite the marketing, Pepsi Raw isn't really "healthy". In fact, according to fitness blog Modern Forager, you are really only saving 9 calories vs. standard Pepsi (117 vs. 126 for a UK-sized 300 ml bottle, which is a little over 10 oz.). Raw contains 29.25 grams (6.96 tsp) of sugar vs. the 31.5 grams (7.5 tsp) found in regular Pepsi. Per their analysis:
A US size of 12 oz. is about 18% larger, bringing us to 8.85 tsp of sugar in Pepsi and 8.2 tsp in Pepsi Raw. But then again, most of us here in the US are downing the 20 oz. size like hot cakes, which adds another 66% to the sugar count, bringing the Pepsi to 14.8 tsp and Pepsi Raw to 13.7. So it looks like going on up to the 20oz version saves a teaspoon of sugar.
It should also be noted that Pepsi calls Raw a drink "made using ingredients from natural sources", not "natural ingredients" or "all natural". This may be to avoid the legal issues that Cadbury Schweppes encountered when they rolled out a reformulated version of 7Up in 2006, claiming the ingredient list was "Now 100% Natural." The company later backtracked and relabeled the drink as "100% Natural Flavors".
While the initial rollout of Pepsi Raw is limited to 7 cities, "a wider roll-out is expected later in the year." At this point, we don't know if that means an international release or not. Drinks under the proposed names "Pepsi Natural", "Pepsi Raw", and "Sierra Mist Essence" have been rumored on beverage forums for the past few years. In the meantime, Pepsi lovers looking for a more authentic taste with real sugar have to rely on imported Mexican Pepsi and Kosher for Passover Pepsi.
Here's The Press Association article on Pepsi Raw…
Pepsi launches 'healthy' option
February 11, 2008
The Press Association
Pepsi is the latest brand to launch a new "healthy" option.
Pepsi Raw is said to be made from natural ingredients and contain no artificial preservatives, colours, flavourings or sweeteners.
It is the first time that Pepsi has added a new drink to its range for more than 10 years.
The calorie content of a 300ml bottle is 117 compared to 126 for normal Pepsi.
Pepsi Raw has only natural ingredients including apple extract, plain caramel colouring, coffee leaf, tartaric acid from grapes, gum arabic from acacia trees, cane sugar and sparkling water. It is paler in colour and less fizzy than other cola brands.
The company hopes that the introduction of Pepsi Raw will compete for a greater share of the cola market from the leader Coca-Cola and at the same time it will capitalise on the growing consumer demand for more natural products.
The UK cola market is worth £6 billion a year and is dominated by the two companies that have been rivals for more than 100 years. Currently Coca-Cola outsells Pepsi in the UK soft drinks market. Coca-Cola held on to its position as the UK's most valuable grocery brand in 2007.
Pepsi marketing director, Bruno Gruwez, said: "We are really proud that the UK is leading the way with the launch of Pepsi Raw, which is the most significant innovation from Pepsi UK in the last 15 years.
"Responding to consumer trends towards premium and more natural products, it contains no artificial preservatives and is made using ingredients from natural sources. By launching Pepsi Raw in bars and clubs, we hope to engage with customers in a new way and are confident that they will enjoy its sophisticated cola taste."
Initially, Pepsi Raw will only be available in selected bars and clubs in seven cities – London, Manchester, Glasgow, Brighton, Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool, although a wider roll-out is expected later in the year.