WHO's Aspartame Decision May Impact Diet Soda Sales or Prompt Beverage Formula Changes

WHO's Aspartame Decision May Impact Diet Soda Sales or Prompt Beverage Formula Changes

July 17, 2023 : The World Health Organization (WHO) has maintained its recommended intake of Aspartame, a sweetener used in various products. Although the WHO classified Aspartame as a possible carcinogen, this classification has raised apprehensions among diet soda consumers and may trigger the development of new beverage alternatives.

Soda consumption has declined over the past two decades as people have shifted to drinking more water or opting for beverages with less sugar. However, diet sodas have shown promise, representing over a quarter of soda sales. Major companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have witnessed success with zero-sugar versions, such as Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Pepsi Zero Sugar, and Diet Mountain Dew, all containing Aspartame.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a WHO agency, recently associated Aspartame with hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer. Although more research is needed to establish a definitive link, the IARC’s classification has raised concerns.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) disagreed with the IARC’s conclusion, stating that their scientists do not have safety concerns regarding Aspartame. The FDA reviewed the studies relied upon by the IARC and identified significant shortcomings.

The Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), linked to the WHO and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, released its report reaffirming the previous recommendations for the acceptable daily intake of Aspartame. Most adults should consume less than nine to 14 cans of diet soda daily to stay within the recommended limits.

While the potential cancer link may not deter moderate diet soda consumers, the announcement could temporarily impact sales. Higher-income consumers, who favor diet sodas, might be particularly concerned. However, analysts believe that soda companies will adapt and take measures to maintain brand momentum.

The WHO suggested that manufacturers consider removing Aspartame from their products, but PepsiCo stated it has no plans to change its use of the sweetener. Aspartame was previously removed from Diet Pepsi in 2015 due to customer backlash but was reintroduced later. Coca-Cola, which uses Aspartame in Diet Coke and Coke Zero, could replace it with other sweeteners like stevia.

Despite the concerns, analysts do not anticipate a significant long-term impact on diet soda sales. Due to its high sweetness level, Aspartame is widely used as a sugar substitute in various food and beverage products, including breakfast cereals, chewing gum, and ice cream. The American Beverage Association, representing major companies, remains confident in Aspartame’s safety based on extensive scientific research.