We recently reviewed Sprite Select, one of two Stevia-sweetened beverages that Coke is test marketing. However, thanks to BevReview reader Howard White, we now know there's an alternate version of Sprite Select being tested in the Washington, D.C. area, composed of a different formula and design. Thus, we present our review of Sprite Select (Version 2)!
Our original review of what we're now referring to as Sprite Select (Version 1) featured a product that was being tested in Atlanta, Detroit, Louisville, and Memphis. The marketing pitch was that it contained "Full Flavor. Half Calories." – making use of sugar, stevia, and erythritol to sweeten the product. With a 12 oz can containing 70 calories, we liked the product quite a bit… though we weren't big fans of the design.
In contrast to Version 1, Sprite Select (Version 2) is being pitched as having "Full Flavor. 1/3 Fewer Calories." Note that change, as a 12 oz can of this stuff contains 90 calories. It's still being sweetened by a blend of sugar and stevia, but there is no erythritol to be found in the ingredient list. Basically, by looking at the makeup of the two drink versions, it would appear this version contains more sugar (23 g Version 2 vs. 17 g Version 1).
Mr. White was kind enough to send along samples of Sprite Select (Version 2) for us to review, as well as contrast against Version 1 of the drink. Cracking open the can, the scent pretty much was indistinguishable from regular Sprite. Light, sweet, lemon lime. Not surprisingly, it's also clear… with a few bubbles.
First off, here's how we described the taste of Version 1 of Sprite Select:
Initial sipping produces a very clean start, in some ways sharper and more full of flavor than regular Sprite. The flavor then transitions a bit to slight bitterness, but it's still quite good. You aren't washed away in bad sweetener aftertaste like you'd find with Sprite Zero.
The finish on Sprite Select is excellent. It's not without the Stevia bitterness often found in these types of drinks, but it's quite reduced and far more palatable. Just like Pepsi Next, the drink starts out strong, with a parallel flavor to its full-calorie sibling, and only then transitions into something your mouth knows is using alternative sweeteners. As lemon lime drinks go, it's more flavorful and tasty than full-stevia-sweetened product lines, such as Zevia and Sans. It also tastes much better than Coke's last lemon lime stevia hybrid, Sprite Green. They've greatly improved the level of bitterness in Sprite Select.
So how does Sprite Select (Version 2) compare? To summarize, it tastes more like regular Sprite than Version 1. It starts out with full flavor, then cuts to the bitterness associated with stevia. But the difference is that this more negative aftertaste isn't as strong or overpowering when compared to Version 1 (which still had a very good balance, for what it's worth). If you did a side-by-side test, it would still be easy to pick out the regular vs. Select versions of these Sprite products, but their taste profiles are much closer than we experienced with Version 1 — I guess adding more sugar will do that!
The other substantial change is in the package design for this version of Sprite Select. Version 1 had a very different design for both Sprite Select and Fanta Select, with an emphasis placed on a unique look for the Select product line… white background, small icons representing the flavor, resized logo of the brand, and a standardized placement of the "Select" name. The phrase "Naturally Sweetened" was prominent, along with the callout for "Full Flavor. Half Calories." It was a very different look.
Contrast that with the look we see here on Sprite Select (and Version 2 of Fanta Select). The brand logo is much larger and more in tune with how it's usually presented. The emphasis shifts from making "Select" a stand-alone look to instead taking existing brand appearances and tacking on the Select brand, much as you would if this were a Diet or Zero version. In the case of the Sprite Select can, it's green with a very large Sprite logo. The "Select" name is also big, but we see a downsized play on the Naturally Sweetened" attribute, as well as the callout of being "Full Flavor. 1/3 Fewer Calories." Overall, it's less of a new look, more of a tweak on a familiar design.
Overall, we like the flavor of Version 2 Sprite Select better than Version 1. But the shift to 1/3 less calories presents a harder marketing position. With Version 1, I think the "50% less" attribute was easy to understand, especially with the pitch of using stevia. But if we're only knocking of 33% of the calories, is it really worth it to someone who wants to cut down? Will they go out of their way to buy a product that really doesn't have a substantial difference in calorie count?
I guess that's what Coke is trying to figure out with these different tests. What is the actual "sweet spot" when it comes to reduction in calories vs. flavor? Whichever version of Select makes it to market will obviously answer that question!
Sprite Select (Version 2)
Carbonated water, sugar, natural flavors, citric acid, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate (to protect taste), malic acid, stevia leaf extract
A 12 oz can contains 90 calories, 70 mg sodium, and 23 g carbs (23 g sugars). Caffeine free.
For comparison, here's a look at Version 1:
Sprite Select (Version 1)
Carbonated water, sugar, erythritol, natural flavors, citric acid, malic acid, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate (to protect taste), stevia leaf extract
A 12 oz can contains 70 calories, 70 mg sodium, and 24 g carbs (17 g sugars). Caffeine free.
Thanks again to Howard for helping us further explore the Select story!