Steps from the lobby of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group headquarters in Plano, Texas, a row of inauspicious Rubbermaid bins holds the crystallized future of the nation’s third-largest soft drink player.
The tubs contain sugar, the artificial sweetener aspartame and similar snowflake-like substances.
Like its competitors Coke and Pepsi, Dr Pepper is deep in the hunt for a new sweetener that can replace existing artificial sweeteners. It has to taste like sugar yet be lower in calories. And it has to be natural.
The stakes are high. The Big Three soda makers lead an industry that’s rounding out a decade of declining sales.
“This year will be the 10th year” of decline, said John Sicher, editor and publisher of the trade publication Beverage Digest. “Without new sweetener technology, I can’t see a reason for that trend to change.”
Carbonated soft drinks make up about 65 percent of sales of “liquid refreshment beverages.” That’s a roughly $120 billion retail category that includes everything from energy drinks to bottled water.
While price hikes have kept total soft drink revenue from tanking, the volume of soda sold, especially diet soda, has been falling.
The suspected culprit behind declines in both regular and diet sodas is the sweeteners.
Researchers and nutritionists have linked the consumption of regular soft drinks to increasing U.S. obesity rates and development of Type 2 diabetes.
Drinking more than one can of regular soda per day can put consumers at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
On the diet side, some consumers have begun to shy away from artificial sweeteners amid reports linking at least one sweetener, aspartame, to an increased incidence of some cancers in lab rats.