Coca-Cola cans diet soda Tab after nearly 60 years

Tab, the pioneering diet soda Coca-Cola first launched in 1963, will be discontinued this year.

Call it another casualty of the coronavirus, beverage giant Coca-Cola had kept the iconic soda on store shelves but because of the pandemic, has reprioritized its drink-making with plans to slash about half the 500 brands it produces, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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The company said in September it planned to cut its beverage production. The reduction coincides with a restructuring that will include layoffs to about 4,000 employees in the U.S. and Canada.

Coke has already discontinued the Odwalla juice brand and already has plans to stop making Zico coconut water. Other drinks the company plans to discontinue include Diet Coke Feisty Cherry, Sprite Lymonade and Coke Life, which is sweetened with stevia, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The brands were chosen because they are not growing and will not achieve large-scale sales, company officials said.

“We love our brands, make no mistake,” Cath Coetzer, who is in charge of Coca-Cola’s innovation and marketing operations, told The Wall Street Journal. “We want to make sure that we create space for new.”

Sales of Tab represented about 1% of the $22 billion global diet soda market. In comparison, Diet Coke had 35% and Coke Zero Sugar had 22% of sales, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It’s a far cry from Tab’s heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, when it gained pop culture status with cans making cameo appearances in movies like “Airplane!” and “Back to the Future.”

The diet soda was first launched in 1963 to compete with Royal Crown’s Diet Rite Cola. The drink was originally sweetened with saccharin which gave it a unique, metallic taste. Later, a mix of saccharin and aspartame were used.

Tab was leading sales in the diet soft drink market when Diet Coke was launched in 1982. It used a different sweetener, aspartame, which gave it a less metallic taste. By 1983, Diet Coke was the No. 4 top selling soft drink in the country. By the early 2000s, Tab barely represented 1% of sales. However, Coca-Cola kept the brand around for die-hard “Tabaholics” and even introduced a Tab energy drink in 2005.

“We want to make sure those who want Tab get Tab,” Douglas Daft, Coca-Cola’s chairman said in 2001. “It shows you care.”

However, the Tab faithful, those who drive long distances to find stores that stock it or made demands to local bottlers to produce it will no longer be able to fill their refrigerators.

“I say to them: ‘Come on the journey with us to what’s coming next in the reduced-calorie segment,’” Coetzer said.