The folks at Dr Pepper Snapple Group have tested the waters in recent years as well, with limited rollouts of Heritage Dr Pepper (bottled by Pepsi) and Dr Pepper with Real Sugar (bottled by Coke). But we got pretty excited when news leaked in March that we’d see 7Up Retro arrive… and in surprising packaging, at that!
7Up Retro is the largest rollout of a nostalgic “real sugar” product from DPSG. In fact, it was used as one of the campaigns featured on NBC’s reality show, The Celebrity Apprentice. Last year the company released Diet Snapple Trop-a-Rocka Tea and Snapple Compassionberry Tea via this same show, and earlier this year Dr Pepper Snapple Group teamed up with CBS’ The Amazing Race to release Snapple Papaya Mango Tea. It would seem that DPSG likes the results they are getting with extensive reality show product placement.
Like other throwback-type products, the “real sugar” used in 7Up Retro is a combination of both cane and beet sugar, per the folks at Dr Pepper Snapple. While cane has a reputation for being more expensive and “elite” when it comes to gourmet sodas, beet sugar is a cheaper alternative. With this move into a real sugar lemon lime, 7Up Retro finds itself being compared to the recent shift of Sierra Mist to Sierra Mist Natural, which based on the comments we’ve seen here on BevReview, sparks a love/hate reaction regarding the sweetener use. Some love the crisp new flavor, others say that the use of real sugar makes it taste more like a diet beverage. So where does that put 7Up Retro?
Before we get into the taste, let’s take a look at how this product is being packaged. In an odd choice, 7Up Retro is only available in 12 oz cans as part of 24-packs, or via a special glass 12 oz bottle in 6-packs. A 20 oz PET bottle option is not available.
The traditional retro option is the 6-pack of glass bottles. These are designed to look as 7Up looked “back then,” whenever that is supposed to be. Frankly, this is our favorite of the retro releases, namely because it actually feels vintage.
Glass bottles with an old-style logo on them (granted, applied as a sticker), and interestingly no mention of the name “7Up Retro.” It’s great to see mentions of “The Uncola” again as well. These green glass bottles are worthy of keeping around as a decorative item, if you are into such “soda decor.”
Now let’s talk about the 12 oz cans. The design decisions are… interesting to say the least. If you are a purist, you probably aren’t going to be a fan of the two styles used here, one to represent culture of the 1970s, while the other reflects the 1980s.
Granted, these cans aren’t styled like 7Up cans from those eras, but rather design trends instead. Both of these designs came as a result of involvement on The Celebrity Apprentice.
The 1970s option was spearheaded by Marlee Marlin, “an Oscar-winning actress and decorated spokesperson for the hearing impaired.” The campaign behind this drink features “a flashy disco-ball can design, a TV spot with a cameo from 1970s 7UP ad icon, Geoffrey Holder, and a launch event with an exciting performance by the Harlem Globetrotters.”
Lots of white and silver are found in this look, breaking from the traditional feel of 7Up. “The Uncola” and “Refreshingly Natural Flavors” are taglines used on the packaging, along with the callout of being “Made with Real Sugar”. It is nice to see the old “red box” 7Up logo appear in a small location on the can. You’ll also find a garish looking plea to “Feel the Love” on the back of the can, along with The Celebrity Apprentice.
In contrast, the 1980s option was anchored by John Rice, “award-winning singer, songwriter and producer.” His design features “eye-popping packaging with bold zebra stripes, a unique 30 second commercial featuring Dee Snider from Twisted Sister and a 1980s-themed launch event with a special performance by Def Leppard.”
Black and white are the prime colors found on this can, along with the more traditional greens of the 7Up logo, including the red “Spot.” The word “Retro” is spelled out in an amazingly hard-to-read font that doesn’t really feel in place.
Like the 1970s version, “The Uncola” and “Made with Real Sugar” make an appearance in text form. The zebra stripes are the primary differentiator with this design, but you’ll also find a red logo for The Celebrity Apprentice on the back.
The beverage enthusiast in me is saying “what the heck?” with these designs. However, I can also understand the reasoning, and c’mon, we’re talking about 7Up here… it needs all the attention it can get. After all, it’s a distant #3 in the lemon-lime category behind Coke’s Sprite and Pepsi’s Sierra Mist. Here is an obvious marketing decision to draw attention to the brand via the TV show connection and hope that drives sales. In this case, I agree with the move… though am thankful that we also have the glass bottle version. In this case, I think everyone wins.
Let’s get to the flavor, shall we? Given the nature of this product, we decided to test it side-by-side against high fructose corn syrup-sweetened 7Up, which was recently rebooted in late 2010. We actually liked the current version of 7Up, noting that it tasted less like a Sierra Mist clone and more like 7Up should taste. Our review noted that “the parent company has for too long ignored this drink and given it lackluster promotion, design, and positioning.” Hopefully the limited-run introduction of 7Up Retro has a positive effect on standard 7Up sales as well.
Regular HFCS-sweetened 7Up didn’t have as much of a lemon-lime scent when compared to 7Up Retro. Retro’s aroma is far more obvious. When poured into glasses, as we found with Sierra Mist Natural and Kosher Coke, the real sugar sweetened drink has smaller, more compact bubbles, while the HFCS version has large, irregularly shaped globes.
Retro 7Up has a very crisp taste, as expected with a sugar-sweetened drink. Instead of being “syrupy sweet” like HFCS 7Up, it’s just plain “sweet.” It’s also a tad less carbonated than regular 7Up, meaning there is a lower “belch factor.”
Probably the largest differentiator between the two drinks is in the aftertaste. Oddly enough, we found that Retro 7Up shared a flavor characteristic with Sierra Mist Natural in that it left a peculiar aftertaste that some might improperly associate with an artificially-sweetened beverage. Whereas HFCS 7Up leaves a lemony, syrupy residue on the backside of your tongue, Retro 7Up doesn’t cling as strongly. Instead, there’s an unexpected finish there that doesn’t seem like it should be associated with what you would expect from 7Up.
Given that this concern was raised with Sierra Mist Natural as well, I just wonder if this what to expect from sugar-sweetened lemon lime drinks… and we’re just not used to it given conditioning to HFCS. That said, there are plenty of sugar-sweetened lemon-limes out there that don’t seem to share this characteristic, such as Bubble Up. The taste isn’t a home run, but your opinion may vary. (Hint: Share your thoughts in the comments!)
Filtered carbonated water, sugar, citric acid, potassium citrate, natural flavors, calcium disodium EDTA (to protect flavor)
A 12 oz bottle or can contains 150 calories, 45 mg sodium, 39 g carbs, and 37.5 g sugars. This drink is caffeine free.
Say what you will about Donald Trump… at least he gave us 7Up with sugar! 7Up Retro is a refreshing addition to the lemon-lime battles, and in some cases, we really want to root for the underdog here. The drink is very clean and lacks any negative syrupy finish, but some might not like the type of aftertaste that it brings. Still, it’s worthy of picking up during this limited time window… so go try it!