Almost 70 years ago, the manager of a sanitarium for chronic disease in New York City had the idea of creating a sugar-free soft drink for both his patients and the general public. No-calorie drinks had been around since the 1920s. However, he had the vision of commercializing a new beverage, appealing to weight-conscious women as a target market, and offering a selection of flavours—no-cal ginger ale, root beer, black cherry, lime cola, chocolate and more.
Within a year, sales had risen above US$5M. By the end of the decade, multiple competitors had entered the market. Royal Cola launched Diet Rite, which was marketed to diabetics. The name was a play on the word “dietetic” and (initially) it was available only in drug stores.
The first no-cal beverage developed by Coca-Cola in 1963 was called Tab—as in ‘keep tabs on your weight’—because Coca-Cola didn’t want to draw consumer attention to the high sugar content of its core product. In fact, the Diet Coke brand didn’t launch until 1982. PepsiCo followed the same approach. Diet Pepsi started out as Patio Diet Cola, for about a year, until Diet Pepsi hit shelves in 1964. Diet 7Up started as Sugar Free 7Up. It took nearly 20 years for the biggest players to be convinced that “diet” wasn’t a fad, and that the market size and growth of the segment justified connecting diet formulations back to their flagship brands.