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Tab gets canned: Coca-Cola will cull its diet soda that became a 1970s icon


Coca-Cola is bidding farewell to Tab, the company’s first-ever diet soda that became a cult favorite in the 1970s, after sales in the US fizzled. 

The soft drink giant on Friday announced it will phase out the soda as well as other under-performing products by the end of 2020 as it works to streamline its beverage lineup amid a challenging year.

‘We’re forever grateful to TaB for paving the way for the diets and lights category, and to the legion of TaB lovers who have embraced the brand for nearly six decades,’ Coke group director Kerri Kopp said in a statement. 

‘If not for TaB, we wouldn’t have Diet Coke or Coke Zero Sugar. TaB did its job.’

Coca-cola is discontinuing Tab, its diet soda pioneer that was first introduced in 1963. Pictured: An ad for Tab and sugar-free Tab from 1979

Coca-cola is discontinuing Tab, its diet soda pioneer that was first introduced in 1963. Pictured: An ad for Tab and sugar-free Tab from 1979 

Tab became a cultural icon in the 1970s and 80s before fizzling out after the company released Diet Coke in 1982

Tab became a cultural icon in the 1970s and 80s before fizzling out after the company released Diet Coke in 1982

Fergie at the Tab energy drink launch party in 2006

Kristin Chenoweth drinking Tab energy in 2006

It made a brief comeback in 2006 when Coca-Cola released a Tab energy drink. Pictured above are Fergie and Kristin Chenoweth posing with the soft drink 

Coca-Cola said the move is part of a wider initiative to transform into a ‘total beverage company’ which involves identifying and scrapping products that have lost relevance. 

Among the soft drink products that have also gone flat are ZICO coconut water, Coca-Cola Life and Diet Coke Feisty Cherry, as well as certain international brands, which will also disappear by the end of the year. 

Tab developed a fan following after it was introduced to the market in 1963 as the company’s first-ever diet drink.  

The saccharine-sweetened, zero-calorie soda paved the way for other artificially-sweetened soft drinks that remain popular today. 

It was initially marketed to women and as a drink for people who wanted to ‘keep tabs’ on their weight. 

Tab reached cultural icon status in the 1980s before slowly losing steam after the release of Diet Coke in 1982. 

Coca-Cola produced several Tab variations over the years including root beer and ginger-ale flavors, and the drink briefly made a comeback in 2006 with the release of Tab energy drink.

Coca-cola produced several Tab variations over the years including root beer and ginger-ale flavors

Coca-cola produced several Tab variations over the years including root beer and ginger-ale flavors 

Gone flat: Coca-cola will also phase out its ZICO coconut water and Diet Coke Feisty Cherry (right) as well as certain international brands

Diet Coke feisty cherry will no longer be available after this year

Gone flat: Coca-cola will also phase out its ZICO coconut water and Diet Coke Feisty Cherry (right) as well as certain international brands

Over the last few decades, the soda had maintained a small but loyal following primarily among fans dubbed ‘Tabaholics’ who grew up with the beloved brand but became harder to find in stores in recent years. 

The company said plans to streamline its beverage lineup had been in the works before the coronavirus outbreak, however supply chain challenges brought by the pandemic have accelerated those moves. 

Chairman and CEO James Quincey called it a ‘golden opportunity’ to act on an ‘ongoing need’ and meet the company’s goal in a shorter timeframe. 

‘We believe it will set us up with more momentum behind stronger brands as we come out of this crisis’, Quincey said.  

Tab became more difficult to find in stores in recent years, but maintained a small but loyal following over the last few decades, primarily among fans who grew up with the beloved brand

Tab became more difficult to find in stores in recent years, but maintained a small but loyal following over the last few decades, primarily among fans who grew up with the beloved brand

Earlier this year, chairman and CEO James Quincey said the pandemic has accelerated Coke’s plans to cut slow-selling ‘zombie brands’ like Odwalla juice, which it stopped producing in July.

An ad for Tab 'clear'

An ad for Tab ‘clear’ 

Coke has 400 brands, more than half of which are single-country brands that make up less than 2 per cent of revenue, Quincey said. 

Going forward, he said, Coke will prune some of those brands and invest in bigger or more promising brands like Aha sparking water.

Coke said sales of water and sports drinks dropped 24 per cent in the second quarter, while coffee and tea sales plunged 31 per cent as the company temporarily closed its Costa coffee stores in Europe. 

Soft drink sales fared better, falling 12 per cent globally. Coca-Cola Zero Sugar sales fell just four per cent. 

The sales volume of Coke based on the number of unit cases declined 25 per cent in April compared to the previous year. 

By June, that decline stood at 10 per cent. In China, case volumes actually rose for the quarter.

Closures of movie theaters and other entertainment venues have also affected Coca-Cola’s sales – half of which come from stadiums and other places where people gather in large numbers. 

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