After nearly 60 years, Coca-Cola is discontinuing its first ever diet drink, Tab, which acquired a huge fan base in the 1970s and 1980s and has maintained a small but devoted following over the years.
“Tab has had an incredible run,” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition and longtime Tab enthusiast. Bixby said there were messages of condolence. “As a business decision I can understand that, but it’s a very sad day … I feel it’s like losing a friend.”
Bixby, who has remained loyal to Tab since the 1970s, said it was preparing for the end. He said he’s been auditioning diet colas all summer – way too sweet.
The calorie-free, saccharin-sweetened tablet was initially marketed for women. Some people familiar with the taste have described it in terms that include “bitter” and “like bad medicine”, with a persistent metallic aftertaste. Although Bixby said he preferred it to other diet colas because it was less sweet. “It wasn’t competing with things, so you could enjoy it with a meal.”
Tab’s growth was more or less cannibalized when Diet Coke entered the scene in 1982. But Coke kept the brand alive for years for its devotees.
In announcing the end of Tab, Coca-Cola noted that the category of zero-calorie fizzy drinks has changed significantly in recent years, both in terms of consumer base and preference. The retirement of products like Tab allows the company to invest in its powerful Diet Coke and Coke Zero brands.
“This is not an underlying efficiency game,” said Brad Spickert, senior vice president of innovation and marketing. “It’s a high-level growth game.”
Bixby says he’s drinking more diet ginger ale these days and hoping for some sort of Tab return as a novelty.
“I had a pretty good supply at the start of the pandemic,” he said. But earlier this year, he could no longer find Tab in stores or online. Now he has only two cans left. “I’ll probably drink one and save the other forever.”