Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Remember New Coke? A look at big beverage spin-offs, changes, more

Customers can be surprisingly fierce when it comes to their beverage choices — just look no further than the "Pepsi vs. Coke" debate fought each day in restaurants nationwide.

But that loyalty hasn't stopped beverage companies from changing up their products, or launching variations of old favorites, even if they aren't all successful. (Sometimes, even when the customers are on board, other forces force a change.)

Here's a look at some of the top beverage debuts, flame-outs and changes in recent years. Starting with one of the most infamous ...

New Coke

On April 23, 1985, Coca-Cola Co. revealed a new formula for its iconic drink, dubbed "New Coke." The decision, as the company itself explained, spawned "consumer angst the likes of which no business has ever seen." (The company said its new formula was preferred in taste tests of almost 200,000  people, but that it didn’t account for the reaction to the branding itself.)

As Time's then-food critic put it: New Coke "approaches the sweetness and thinness of Pepsi, [but] it does not have the lemony aftertaste."

The decision was  reversed after 79 days, and on July 11, 1985, original Coke returned.

Crystal Pepsi

In an, ahem, clear push to equate one of its products with wellness, Pepsi created the caffeine-free, see-through Clear Pepsi in 1992, and marketed it with the slogan, "You've never seen a taste like this." National sales started in 1993, according to Bustle, following heartening response in test markets, but fell fatally throughout that year.

The man behind the drink said its failure was attributable to taste. But according to a Coca-Cola Co. executive at the time, Crystal Pepsi was killed by the launch of the seemingly competitive Tab Clear — which was strategically labeled "sugar free" as a way to confuse consumers, as Crystal Pepsi was not sugar free.

Fans of the drink can take heart, however: Pepsi announced in the summer of 2015 that it is considering reviving the brand.

Maxwell House Ready-to-Drink Coffee

General Foods debuted the ready-to-drink coffee in 1990, but some analysts say the company made a crucial packaging mistake: The product looked like it should be served hot (like most coffee), but to do that involved pouring it out of its refrigerated container, into a mug and then placing the mug in the microwave. 

Life Savers Soda

Launched in the '80s, Life Savers Soda fared less well with customers than it did in taste tests — perhaps because, as one expert said in 2005, according to Time, "The Life Savers name gave consumers the impression they would be drinking liquid candy."

Cocaine

Redux Beverages' high-caffeine drink, which sold itself on the strength of its controversial branding ("Banned by 7-Eleven") was renamed in 2007, following a Food and Drug Administration decision that its marketing was illegal, according to the New York Times, citing regulations on "street drug alternatives" and because the drink claimed to reduce cholesterol.

Following a few branding changes, Redux brought Cocaine back to shelves under its original name — virtually, at least: Amazon users can buy a six-pack with one click.

Four Loko

Four Loko began as caffeinated malt liquor drink that also contained guarana and taurine (both of which are ingredients some energy drinks). But Four Loko's formula was overhauled in late 2010, according NPR — eliminating the caffeine, guarana and taurine — following a run of bad press and several investigations from state attorneys general into the possible health effects of its formula.

Pepsi A.M.

Introduced in the late '80s as an alternative for the morning soda drinker, Pepsi A.M. had "all the sugar and twice the caffeine" of regular Pepsi, the company said, according to Business Insider. But it "fizzled" within the year, hamstrung by demand (breakfast cola!) that never materialized and a brand name that limited its appeal in other contexts.

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A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Four Loko had been marketed as an energy drink.

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