Thursday, February 02, 2006

TaB Makes a Comeback?

I haven't seen the original saccharin-sweetened Tab in my local grocery for a number of years, though I've heard from friends that it occasionally does crop up. Contrary to popular belief, it has not been discontinued--it's just keeping a low profile. So low, in fact, that it's not even listed on Coke's "domestic brands" website. Tab is still canned (not bottled) by the Coca Cola company, just as it was more than 40 years ago when it was introduced in 1963. Currently, it's in what's called "limited supply," but die-hard addicts and/or retro fans can still find it in their local specialty beverage store; if not there, then online, for sure.

While there are undoubtedly thousands of Tab afficionados out there today, it's nothing like what Coke had on its hands in the early days when Tab's popularity was absolutely over the top as it became the country's first widely-accepted diet soft drink. I remember becoming semi-hooked on it myself as a teenager and I still recall that crusty, over-carbonated, charcoal taste. Yes, the pink can was effeminate, but the satisfaction of drinking a decent-tasting pop without the toothrotting, fat-adding sugar was worth it. And it made a great mixer. We always had some around our house and I'd buy some now in a minute if I could find it.

But at the height of its popularity, a warning was issued and things were never quite the same. This appeared on the label:

"Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals."

You'd think that would be enough to scare off most people, and it did. But like its petro-chemical aftertaste, Tab's appeal lingered and it continued to be popular into the early 80s, when it was supplanted by Diet Coke. It wasn't clearly understood until years later, that to have even the slightest statistical carcinogenic effect (even in rats, which metabolize foods differently from humans), one would have to drink several gallons of a saccharin-sweetened softdrink daily--for virtually a lifetime.

But the damage had been done and unlike America's waistline, Tab's appeal waned as Diet Coke and other non-saccharin diet soft drinks came onto the market. Unbelievably, it wasn't until late 2000 that warning labels were no longer required on saccharin-sweetened products--after more than 20 years of study.

Flash forward to 2006, when I was reading an article in the Feb 6 New Yorker, that the Coca-Cola company is resurrecting the Tab name into a new drink called Tab Energy. Yes, it will be in the vein of uber-popular Red Bull and other highly-caffeineted power drinks, but will now be sweetened with Sucralose. As with the original Tab, it will be marketed toward women, as the slimmed-down 10.5 ounce cans with their "fuschia gingham" color scheme testify. With three times more caffeine than classic Tab (which had plenty to start with), a different sweetener and a little sugar, the new Tab will not taste anything like the old Tab--probably a good thing. Test marketing is well under way and you can expect a marketing blitz later in the year.


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