Pepsi to launch soda sweetened with stevia

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NEW YORK — There’s Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and now, Pepsi True, a midcalorie version of the soda made with natural sweeteners.

PepsiCo Inc. said Wednesday the latest version of its flagship soda will have 30 percent fewer calories than regular and be made with a mix of sugar and stevia, a natural sweetener with no calories.

The drink will go on sale later this month on before eventually being rolled out to supermarkets and other traditional outlets, according to the company. It will come in 7.5-ounce cans, each 60 calories.

As Americans keep cutting back on soda, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have been looking for ways to win back customers by addressing concerns about the high fructose corn syrup in regular soda as well as the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas.

Executives have pushed to come up with formulas with fewer calories using only natural sweeteners. But the bitter aftertaste of some natural sweeteners like stevia has made that a struggle. The solution so far has been to add at least some sugar — and, therefore, some calories.

Diet sodas, by contrast, have no calories, but use artificial sweeteners like aspartame that are seen as processed and fake.

In the meantime, Coca-Cola also is testing a version of its soda in the southeastern U.S. that’s made with sugar and stevia. That drink, called Coca-Cola Life, comes in 8-ounce glass bottles and has 60 calories per bottle.

Ali Dibadj, a Bernstein analyst, said in a note Wednesday that interviews with store managers indicated sales of Coca-Cola Life so far seem “satisfactory.”

It’s not clear what type of demand there will be for midcalorie sodas like Pepsi True and Coca-Cola Life over the long term. Both companies have tested midcalorie versions of their flagship sodas in the past, but those were made with different sweeteners. In 2012, PepsiCo also rolled out Pepsi Next, which has about half the calories of regular Pepsi.

Pepsi Next, which is still on shelves, is made with a mix of three artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup.

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