Wednesday, April 25, 2012


PepsiCo’s latest hybrid cola is here…but is it actually worth taking for a taste test?

Is it just me, or does Pepsi seem to trot out hybrid cola/diet cola products with the regularity most people change underwear?

Over the last 15 or so years, we’ve seen at least half a dozen or so attempts by PepsiCo to launch a sustainable, long-term, not quite regular/not quite diet iteration of its flagship syrup water, and pretty much all of them have been commercial failures.

Whereas Coca-Cola has had a tad more success with its “halfway”sodas, Pepsi just seems to be stuck in perpetual limbo when it comes to reduced calorie offerings. Despite coming up short literally every prior at-bat, PepsiCo has yet again ventured into the domain of hybrid colas with its latest advent, Pepsi Next - a 60 calorie soda that’s touted as containing 60 percent less sugar than its’ standard forbearer.

The ultimate question with Pepsi Next, of course, is two-fold; Is it a.) comparable in taste to regular Pepsi, and b.) does it actually taste halfway worth a damn at all?

Well, as the soda-ologist I am, I decided to give Pepsi’s latest soda a taste-test, to see just how it fares in a super-glutted, hyper-competitive modern cola market. To keep things all scientific and whatnot, we will be reviewing the soda based on five sets of criteria: packaging, color, taste, texture and overall flavor. Now, who’s ready for a little POP-cultural studies?


Based on sheer aesthetics, this thing is a downright massive failure. For one thing, the package looks WAY too much like your standard Pepsi product, so much so that most people would probably waltz by a display without ever noticing it’s a new soda. While the light blue packaging is mildly pleasing to the eye, the font and lettering here is just atrocious, with text that’s way too small and unpronounced to get your attention. Additionally, the logo placement here is just way too clumsy and arbitrary looking; furthermore, all of the big selling points (“60 percent less sugar”) are not only undramatic, but pretty difficult to spot when you’re marching down a shopping market aisle. In terms of fundamental visuals, Pepsi Next is a gargantuan let-down.



Of all things, I suppose tint is probably the least important feature of any soda, but I know some folks that have an eye so keen for the stuff that they can tell whether a soda is diet or standard based on sheer observation alone. Granted, I’m far from being a boaster of such a Mutant Power, so my eyes really cannot detect that much of a difference in color between standard Pepsi and this newfangled offering. I’m sure there are people out there that probably can detect a difference of some kind, but for the casual consumer, there’s really no way you would be able to tell this stuff apart from regular or Diet Pepsi. In that regard, Pepsi Next is, at least visually, identical to its soda forbearer.



While packaging and hue are relatively inconsequential aesthetics, there is absolutely nothing more pivotal than taste when it comes to soda. In fact, that’s really the ONLY thing that matters when it comes to sodas, so just forget about all of that shit I said before and after this judgment.

On my first go-around, it was pretty difficult to gauge a difference between Pepsi Next and regular Pepsi Cola, but after a few sips, the differences became very palpable. Pepsi is marketing this thing as a hybrid soda that, genetically, rests somewhere between “regular” cola and diet soda, and I’d say that’s a pretty fitting description of this particular product. It has a sweet taste comparable to Diet Pepsi, but it also has a syrupy thickness that makes it go down more like regular cola. Ultimately, it tastes like the amalgamation of Pepsi and Diet Pepsi, which, while far from being a horrible concept, is just kind of, well, bland as an offering. It isn’t bad by any stretch (in fact, it’s pretty damn tasty, all things considered) but seeing as how this stuff is being churned out by the same guys that have given us so many distinct and awesome Mountain Dew variations over the years, I really can’t give Pepsi Next a glowing recommendation as far as taste goes.



Well, this is the one area where Pepsi has really excelled with their new offering, because it feels just like a regular soda. Granted, the offering may taste more diet Pepsi than regular cola, but as far as the thickness, tingle and overall smoothness of the beverage goes, it genuinely feels like you are sipping on a non-diet cola. At first, the lack of carbonation had me a little concerned, but rest assured - if you just swished this stuff around in your mouth, I highly doubt you would be able to tell it apart from standard Pepsi. Of course, this is a qualifier that only the most hardcore of soda enthusiasts take into consideration, but it’s perhaps the product’s strongest selling point…and reason alone, I guess, to give this stuff a try.



The thing about mainstream sodas is that, most of the time, the things are typically flavorful (thanks a lot, petrochemical additives!), and at the absolute least, pretty darn tasty when you have a parched throat. Really, I couldn’t give a rat’s hoo-ha if what’s in my cup is Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Next or Pepsi AM - as long as it’s cold and foamy and it’s sort of hot outside, odds are, I will drink it down without hesitation or criticism.

Objectively, though, Pepsi Next has more problems with its flavoring than it does positives. I have never been a big fan of diet colas, simply because the drinks are just too watery for my liking. The good thing about Pepsi Next, I suppose, is that it’s a little thicker than most cola offerings, although that super-sugary aspartame taste still remains. As before, it’s definitely drinkable, and it has a really nice texture, but with so much stuff on the market, who really felt the need for there to be a Pepsi Middling on the market?

On the whole, the best I can give Pepsi Next is a “good” rating, but most certainly not a “great” one. It will do you if you are thirsty or need something to counteract an especially salty and saucy burrito, but I highly doubt anyone would consider this a must-buy in any regard.


At the end of the day, I reckon Pepsi Next is a good enough soda, but that’s about it. Since Americans are about as health conscious as your typical walrus, I highly doubt this stuff has a high market demand, and I think it’s all but certain that this stuff will be discontinued by a year’s time. It may be of interest to soda collectors, although it certainly lacks the outrageous-factor of such long-gone PepsiCo gimmicks as Pepsi Blue and Mountain Dew Game Fuel. Unless you really, really want to have something in your closet that you can point to your grandkids and say “look, back in 2012, we had a short-lived Pepsi/Diet Pepsi crossbreed that nobody bought” in a couple of decades, there really isn’t much appeal here for contemporary soda-aficionados. At the end of the day, Pepsi Next is at least worth a try once or twice…although I highly doubt it’ll turn any of you into repeat buyers. 


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