Because they are giant behemoths who essentially act as country-less corporate nation-states with marketing budgets that rival the GDPs of mid-sized European countries, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Coke and Pepsi already have sugar-free players in what business school students call their “portfolio,” most notably thanks to Coke’s recent acquisition of Texas hipster seltzer beverage Topo Chico last year. When three of the biggest drink manufacturers in the world each make a move in the past month away from the sugary thing that originally made them giant drink manufacturers, we’re reaching an inflection point.
All of these business decisions I was forced to look up on the internet underline a central theme in America: our weird love for absolutes, especially when it comes to diet. We, the American People, love a good scapegoat, and so, in the '90s, we blamed fats and cholesterol for destroying the health of our children and giving us premature dad bods despite the fact that we rollerbladed everyday while listening to Fine Young Cannibals, and now we have foisted the blame on sugar. But as much as we love a scapegoat, we also love its opposite: the perfect diet food, aka a food item that is, by the normal standards of diet, considered a “cheat food” or “dessert” or “cheese” but thanks to the latest health craze, considered something you can enjoy in unlimited quantities, as long as you stay away from the scapegoat.
This thinking helps explain why fad diets that promise you can eat as much of something as you want work so well here -- there is a constant need to feel like we’ve put something over on someone, even if it’s ourselves. No one wants to be told that just eating a balanced diet featuring small amounts of all the unhealthy things, and larger amounts of all the healthy things is the answer. No, we shout, viewing our health as if it’s a casino blackjack table. Surely there is some sort of angle or advantage to be played here, a way to, say, eat nothing but steak and bacon or cheese chips and mayonnaise. And some enterprising nutritionist sees us eagerly waving our hundred dollar bills around and they tell us what we want to hear.
A good way to test this theory is to look at the current best selling food books on Amazon right now. Seven of the top 16 books are the Keto diet, the current darling of the diet world, which essentially means eating some protein, lots of fat, and avoiding sugar. Pretty much all studies suggest that this diet, like EVERY OTHER FAD DIET, works well in the short term, but does just as terribly in the long-term, since the other thing we the American people have is short attention spans.
And because everything is cyclical, it's only a matter of time before we reach a point where a new study will come out and sugar's prominence as the spokesperson for the Evil Foods Empire will fade, and Sodastream will release its home Pepsi mix (“sugar is back baby,” Jim Cramer will shout from a bathroom stall), and every Costa Coffee will feature a prominent standalone display of Mexican Cokes (“made with real cane sugar,” will say someone driving by a London bank), and, only then, when all the other market forces have aligned will Starbucks quietly start testing a nonfat fro-yo Frappuccino aimed at tweens, with an off-menu Snackwell's Devil's Food Cake cookie mix-in (*extreme Joey Lawrence voice* Whoa).