Update 2/7/12: Based on the success of Dr Pepper Ten, other 10 calorie flavors are currently being tested in various markets. We have additional reviews on Sunkist Ten, 7Up Ten, A&W Ten, Canada Dry Ten, and RC Ten.
Original Review: Who needs zero calories when you can have 10? Dr Pepper Ten is hitting test markets across the U.S., seemingly targeted at males who apparently don't want anything to do with Diet Dr Pepper. Thanks to BevReview reader Erin Tapken, we obtained a sample for review!
Via a tip from our friends at Salute to Soda, we were pointed to John Sicher and his Beverage Digest cover story about Dr Pepper Ten in their January 14 issue, mentioning that Dr Pepper Snapple Group's "research shows 'many guys [aged 25-34] are not satisfied with the taste or image of diet sodas'." The takeaway is that Diet Dr Pepper has long been promoted as tasting very close to the flagship product, and I think folks who drink it would agree. It's also mentioned that Diet Dr Pepper has a "slightly lighter mouthfeel" than regular Dr Pepper, but Dr Pepper Ten is closer to the "full flavor and mouthfeel" of the real thing.
Sounds like a lot of marketing babble, if you ask me. Let's look at this for what it really is. Dr Pepper Ten is their version of Coke Zero and Pepsi Max. It's pretty obvious. Zero and Max both use aspartame and acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) as their artificial sweeteners, as does Dr Pepper Ten. This is in contrast to the diet products from these same companies, which solely use aspartame in Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, and Diet Dr Pepper.
Coke has been quite successful with Zero, marketing it as a third primary product line alongside flagship Coca-Cola and Diet Coke. The marketing pitch that "it tastes like Coke" is pretty simple to understand and true, given that Diet Coke actually isn't based on the Coke formula (but rather shares a formula with the doomed New Coke).
The only real tweaking the company has had to do since the rollout is to change the packaging from the original white color to the current black scheme… which probably helped broaden the appeal of the drink with men.
Pepsi, on the other hand, couldn't market themselves out of a box if their life depended on it. Pepsi Max has gone through a name change, no less than 4 packaging redesigns, and a short-lived flavor extension… and they still don't know how to promote the drink.
- "Hey, it has ginseng and will keep you awake!"
- "Hey, it's not really Diet Pepsi Max, it's just Pepsi Max, so guys will like it now!"
- "Hey, let's make the label black so it looks like Coke Zero!"
- "Hey, it's now the official soft drink of the NFL!"
- "Hey, let's waste money on pointless Super Bowl commercials!"
The funny thing is, Pepsi Max is actually a pretty good product that lacks branding focus and positioning with the rest of the Pepsi ensemble of flavors. I still don't think they know what they are doing with the drink.
Which leads us to Dr Pepper Ten, which has a unique problem of its own, albeit a good one. People are very passionate and supportive of Diet Dr Pepper. It's one of the strong anchors of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group portfolio, ranked #10 in sales for 2009 (Source: Beverage Digest), with regular Dr Pepper owning the #5 spot (behind Coke, Pepsi, Diet Coke, and Mountain Dew). The reputation of Diet Dr Pepper being very similar in flavor to the original is solid, and from taste tests, pretty well supported. So how do you launch a new version of a diet drink without alienating or cannibalizing your existing Diet Dr Pepper fans?
Based on the marketing materials being used in the 6 test markets for Dr Pepper Ten (Austin, Denver, Colorado Springs, Des Moines, Kansas City, San Antonio), the pitch seems to be "it's for men only, stupid." Because nothing works better in a postmodern advertising climate than telling men exactly what they should be drinking in a condescending and brain-dead fashion. They absolutely love that!
Here's some copy from the official Dr Pepper website: "Introducing Dr Pepper Ten. 10 bold tasting calories with the same authentic 23 flavors of Dr Pepper. That's a whole lot of taste in one can. Try it today and see why Dr Pepper Ten is not for women."
By not going "zero calorie" but instead throwing in 10 calories worth of high fructose corn syrup (along with the previously mentioned aspartame and acesulfame potassium), this makes Ten a different product from Diet Dr Pepper, as well as Coke Zero and Pepsi Max. It also seems to be targeting the idea that it would taste a lot closer to the full-calorie version because it has 10 calories in it (vs. zero).
There is another hidden bonus that makes it more "manly," I guess. Just like Pepsi Max has the inclusion of ginseng (which they seem to forget about these days when advertising the drink), Dr Pepper Ten has a higher amount of caffeine (4.2 mg/oz) vs. regular Dr Pepper (3.4 mg/oz).
Let's not forget that other "hybrid" type drinks have been tried in previous years. Did we not learn from 2004's short-lived Coke C2 and Pepsi Edge? Granted, those beverages were more half-calorie type products vs. the very small calorie option with Dr Pepper Ten, but has the market changed enough to welcome this type of product back? Who knows what's next?
But let's move beyond the marketing and positioning of Dr Pepper Ten. I'm sure the audience will dictate if the direction picked was successful or not. Let's get into the drink itself!
First off, kudos to the package design folks for not using black as the primary color. Instead, we're given a label that sits on something like a gunmetal grey. Still a dark color and not light/fluffy like a diet drink for women. We're greeted by the standard Dr Pepper logo which now is accented by an all-caps "TEN", sitting above the tagline of "10 bold tasting calories." Elsewhere on the 20 oz bottle we reviewed was the phrase "Same 23 authentic flavors." The standard Dr Pepper plastic bottle shape and design are also in play here with Ten.
Upon opening the bottle, you find that the drink smells like traditional Dr Pepper, perhaps a bit more on the cherry side, to be honest. The look and color of the drink is about the same as regular Dr Pepper.
Now, as far as taste, to better judge the flavor, we compared regular Dr Pepper, Dr Pepper with Real Sugar, Diet Dr Pepper, and Dr Pepper Ten. The results were rather surprising. In short, we found that Dr Pepper Ten actually tasted LESS like Dr Pepper than its Diet sibling. In fact, the flavor was rather bland and lacking the unique subtleties that you usually associate with the drink.
Both Dr Pepper Ten and Diet Dr Pepper have the negative aftertaste typically associated with diet beverages, but Ten was far worse. It was quite overpowering. In contrast, the flavor of Diet Dr Pepper was far more inline with the taste profile of regular Dr Pepper (and Pepper with Real Sugar, for that matter). The different use of sweeteners is probably to blame here, with Diet's use of aspartame coming closer to the original than Ten's aspartame/Ace-K combo. This revelation is somewhat interesting given that there's also some HFCS thrown in for good measure, so you'd think that the taste would be better.
Dr Pepper Ten starts out fine with that first sip, but then the expected flavor never arrives (unlike Diet Dr Pepper), instead trailing right into the negative aftertaste. While there is something there that tastes like Dr Pepper, it definitely feels like those 23 flavors aren't kicking on all cylinders.
We're big Dr Pepper fans, so this was disappointing. Stick with the far-superior Diet Dr Pepper.
Dr Pepper Ten
Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, aspartame, sodium benzoate, caffeine, natural and artificial flavors, acesulfame potassium, sodium phosphate
A 20 oz bottle contains 20 calories, 100 mg sodium, 5g carbs, and 4g sugars.