Salary Survey Extra: The new old sugar-free Coca-Cola
Posted on
March 10, 2022

Salary Survey Extra is a series of dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our annual Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

Lots of things in food and beverage culture have a habit of disappearing from the market, only to triumphantly reappear later on. Fast food restaurants play this game all the time: McDonald's has rediscovered its McRib sandwich only slightly fewer times than the full moon has reappeared in the night sky. Sometimes a prodigal product doesn't even actually go away, and is simply reintroduced after being cloaked in the faux-mystery of slightly different branding or packaging.

That's what happened to Coke Zero, the sans-calories no-sugar alternative to Coca-Cola that is (or was) definitely not Diet Coke. Following its initial introduction in 2005, Coke Zero rocketed to popularity. The black-label alternative to Coca-Cola — which supposedly has (or had) a more Coke-like flavor than Diet Coke — was still thriving when the Coca-Cola overlords pulled the plug in 2017. Sort of pulled the plug, that is: Coke Zero didn't vanish so much as it just became, er, cloaked in faux-mystery.

The most obvious tweaks were superficial: Coke Zero became Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, and the sleek black packaging reverted to a more classic red look. The formula for the soft drink itself was also changed, to make it taste more like Coca-Cola. You'll recall (from the previous paragraph, if not from actual life experience) that a strong selling point of Coke Zero in the first place was that it, um, tasted more like Coca-Cola (or at least more like it than Diet Coke).

The wheel in the sky kept on turning up until last fall, when the 2022 Salary Survey and a crazy new thing called Coca-Cola Zero Sugar were unveiled before the eyes of the world more or less at the same time. Wait ... what?! They didn't even change the name? Or the packaging? Or the formula? Well, OK, supposedly they did, in fact, tinker with the soft drink formula. The point being to — say it with us — make Coca-Cola Zero Sugar taste more like Coca-Cola.

So everything old is new again (again), and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is back! (Even though it never left.) All of this happened just as the 2022 Salary Survey was about to set sail, and we could hardly a) contain our excitement, or b) hold back from dashing to the end of the survey, where we stick all those mood-leavening Not So Serious questions. Surely if anyone would be drunk on the hype of the new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, it would be certified IT professionals.

Here's what we learned:

Q: My take on the new (again) Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is:

Coca-Cola had sugar in it? — 11.8 percent
This is a callous betrayal of soda and everything it stands for. — 15.9 percent
Big deal. They just replaced the sugar with aspartame. Now I can pickle my liver instead of rotting it. — 33.8 percent
Does this mean my kid can no longer win the science fair by dissolving a rusty nail in a glass of Coke? — 13.3 percent
This is what Michael Jackson was talking about in that one song, "Heal the World." — 6.2 percent
This is what Michael Jackson was talking about in that one song, "Bad." — 7 percent
Wake me up when someone brings back Crystal Pepsi. — 12 percent

The biggest single group of certified IT professionals who answered this question is not buying what Coca-Cola is selling, or at least not in a metaphorical sense. They may be happy to actually purchase and consume Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, but they are clear-eyed about the reality that the sugar has simply been replaced by something that still tastes as sweet ... and may not be all that much better than what it's being substituted for.

Thinking more or less along those same lines are the respondents who formed the next largest group. What, they seem to be saying, is the point of having soda without sugar? What are we even doing here? There's also a notable amount of concern as to whether removing the sugar from Coca-Cola has rendered it unfit to be used for one of its most legendary non-thirst-quenching applications.

As always, whenever the question is about Coca-Cola, there are some contrarians whose first thought is to turn it into a discussion of beverage arch-nemesis Pepsi. The conspiracy theorists — or maybe just those who find the flavor of Coca-Cola more bitter and tangy than sweet — are dubious that there has ever been sugar in Coca-Cola in the first place. And everyone else is letting the wit and wisdom of the late philosopher and social scientist Michael Jackson express their feelings.

About the Author

Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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