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Pepsi Tells Consumers When Soft Drinks Might Go Stale

March 30, 1994

NEW YORK (AP) _ Pepsi-Cola Co. said Wednesday it will start warning its customers with easy-to-read dates stamped on soft drink containers how long they have before the soda starts losing its flavor.

The nation’s second-biggest soft drink maker said consumers are demanding more information about what they eat and drink and it expects others to imitate its move. A New York state consumer advocate applauded the move.

Pepsi’s rivals including industry leader Coca-Cola Co., Dr Pepper-Seven-Up Cos. and Royal Crown Co. say product freshness isn’t an issue for most consumers because most soft drinks are consumed long before losing flavor.

They each said they had no plans to follow Pepsi’s lead. But Coca-Cola conceded it has made unadvertised changes in the coding on its products in recent months that would enable it to match Pepsi’s move if demand grows.

Somers, N.Y.-based Pepsi said soft drinks generally taste best when they are consumed within about three months from production for diet drinks and six to nine months for sugared beverages depending on the container.

Diet Pepsi will be the first drink in Pepsi’s portfolio to carry the so- called freshness dates, but plans are to expand the program to all its other beverages including flagship Pepsi and Mountain Dew by the end of the year.

Diet drinks lose flavor because non-sugar sweeteners break down faster.

Pepsi plans to spend $20 million to $30 million over the next two months to make sure consumers are aware of the new freshness labels.

The promotional campaign will include five commercials including three featuring Pepsi-Cola North America president and chief executive Craig Weatherup explaining the reasons for the freshness dating. ″It will change the way you look at soft drinks,″ two other ads conclude.

Soft drink bottlers have for years imprinted cans and bottles of soft drink with cryptic codes that delivery workers use to rotate products. Pepsi’s freshness dating will convert those into something a consumer can understand.

The label will say ″For best taste drink by ...″ and an arrow will point to the bottom of a can or neck of a bottle that may say ″APR 01 94.″

Pepsi tested the new coding last year on Diet Pepsi in Omaha and sales rose 8 percent and consumers liked the opportunity. Unadvertised tests were also conducted in Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Spokane, Wash.

Diet Pepsi could use a lift. The newsletter Beverage Digest said its share of the $49 billion industry fell to 5.8 percent in 1993 from 6.1 percent a year earlier. Diet Coke had 8.9 percent of the market, down from 9.1 percent.

Weatherup said Pepsi hadn’t been getting any more complaints about stale soft drinks than usual in recent months but said it was hearing more often that consumers wanted more information about product dating and nutrition.

He estimated about 4 million consumers have outdated soft drinks on the shelf but probably don’t know it. An outdated drink doesn’t pose a health risk but a bad experience could drive someone away from a brand. About 50 million people consume soft drinks, he said.

But Coca-Cola said freshness dating for consumers is not an issue for most consumers. ″Consumers want a good tasting soft drink and our consumers are getting that,″ said Ron Baskin, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Coca-Cola USA.

He confirmed, however, that Coca-Cola has made its product codes more readable in recent months, changing all-numeric codes to ones that include the first three letters for the month by which the product should be consumed.

Baskin said the change was mostly for its own employees and is not being advertised or explained to consumers.

″We have been aware that the competition has been studying this. If it becomes an issue for consumers, you want to there,″ he said.

Donald Lenehan, a top marketing executive at Royal Crown Co., said Pepsi may be creating unexpected problems with freshness dating.

″When you shop for milk, you dive around the shelves looking for the absolutely latest-dated milk carton. The risk they run is getting the same kind of behavior in the soft drink aisle,″ he said.

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