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NEW YORK -- After decades of increased consumer consumption, diet soda sales are on the decline.
Dollar sales of zero- and low-calorie soda dropped 6.8 percent during the 52 weeks ended Nov. 23, while dollar sales of regular soda fell just 2.2 percent, according to a Wells Fargo report citing Nielsen scanner data. Overall, diet soda has contracted more than regular soda for the last three years straight, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Soda is increasingly less of an everyday drink, with 34 percent of consumers aged 18 to 36 labeling it as a "treat" in a March Mintel survey — a higher figure than older consumers.
Additionally, NPD Group data shows that 20 percent of Americans say they are on a diet, down from 25 percent 10 years ago, potentially cutting down on the need for diet beverages.
However, health concerns about the artificial sweeteners found in diet soda present the biggest challenge. Forty-six percent of consumers (and more than 50 percent of consumers under the age of 35) agreed that artificial sweetener is "unhealthy" in a recent Mintel survey. Meanwhile, 28 percent of consumers told Datamonitor that they avoid low-calorie sweeteners entirely, and 23 percent report trying to limit their intake.
PepsiCo Inc. Chairman Indra Nooyi recently noted a "fundamental shift in consumer habits and behaviors," according to the report. The company removed the artificial sweetener aspartame from its mid-calorie Pepsi Next in April and is considering a new sweetener based on a variant of the all-natural stevia plant, as well as other alternatives.
The Coca-Cola Co. is also developing a stevia variant sweetener and began selling the stevia-sweetened, mid-calorie Coca-Cola Life in South America earlier this year. It also ran print ads over the summer defending aspartame by highlighting 200-plus studies that support its safety. Meanwhile, Dr Pepper Snapple Group continues to heavily market Dr Pepper Ten, a mid-calorie soda it launched in 2011, according to the report.