Sierra Mist changes formula with addition of Stevia

Sierra Mist with Stevia

Fresh on the heels of the story about Capri-Sun switching back to a sugar-based formula and a Stevia-based one for Roaring Waters, Sierra Mist has quietly added stevia to its regular, non-diet Sierra Mist. The trouble is, stevia sometimes has a bitter aftertaste. Coca-Cola Life is a Stevia-based cola, and when I tried it, I didn’t like it at all. (In fact, I know I once wrote that I would review it here, but I couldn’t even get through the bottle, so I scrapped those plans..!) Stevia is sweet, but too much stevia can make things bitter. I found Coca-Cola Life to be too bitter for my taste. Some drinks get the stevia blend “right” so that it tastes sweet with no aftertaste — for me, the Crystal Light Pure line of drink mixes are a good example. I can drink these and truly can’t taste the stevia in them. Consumerist reports that’s unfortunately not the case with the new Sierra Mist:

If you’re not a frequent soda drinker and only occasionally pick up a bottle of Sierra Mist, you might get a strange-tasting surprise the next time you pick one up. PepsiCo has replaced some of the sugar in the beverage with stevia-based sweetener, which reduces the calories but alienates customers who don’t care for the taste of stevia.Customers have noticed the difference. Many Sierra Mist drinkers report that they didn’t notice anything unusual on the bottle, since there was no obvious “New Formula!” or “Now with stevia!” labeling on the package. For some people, that would be a selling point. Instead, PepsiCo changed up the formula at the same time that it redesigned the packaging in the fall of 2014. Customers have not embraced the change, as a perusal of the brand’s Facebook page will show you…

Read the entire article at Consumerist After I read this, I Googled for more information about the Sierra Mist stevia switch, which turned up this Advertising Age article from September 2014. AdAge noted, “Stevia might help reduce calories, but its use in drinks in the U.S. has been met with mixed reviews. Sierra Mist recently teased its change on its Facebook page and was met with a smattering of consumer complaints, including one person who stated that “the old recipe was a nice crisp taste, [and the] new one has a diet aftertaste.” We have purchased Sierra Mist fairly often because it doesn’t contain HFCS. Apparently we haven’t encountered the “new” kind yet in our stores… which may be a good thing.


And, a note on why things like this affect me…

This is something I haven’t blogged about before here, but I am a “supertaster.” If you’re not familiar with this, this article explains it well. I taste things more intensely and vividly than 75% of the population does.

I learned that I was a supertaster in high school when our science teacher passed out little slips of paper laced with PTC and asked us to lick them. The majority of people cannot taste this chemical. I found it bitter, disgusting, and couldn’t wait to drink something to get rid of that flavor in my mouth! The rest of my class thought I’d gone crazy, because they tasted nothing when they licked their papers — they saw me reacting to something foul that they physically could not taste.

(If you want to find out if you are a supertaster too, $3.50 will get you 100 PTC taste testing strips at Amazon!)

I have always known certain foods must taste differently to other people than they do for me. Broccoli, coffee, grapefruit, and any alcoholic beverage in which you can taste the alcohol — all unbearable to me. They’re horrifically bitter. I can tolerate some of them in tiny amounts (a little broccoli in a cheddar-based soup or rice dish is okay – ditto a tiny amount of coffee in a chocolate cake or wine in a pasta sauce or marinade) but the majority of these things are just… really, really bad-tasting to me. Once the internet came along, I learned that most supertasters have similar lists of foods they cannot tolerate.

The article I linked above says it really well: “It’s not a superpower, you don’t get a cape and it doesn’t make you better than other people… let me tell you right now, there’s nothing super about it. It’s annoying and limiting.”

Along with not being able to tolerate things that the rest of the world seems to love, artificial sweeteners are ghastly to me. Ordering a Coke in a restaurant and getting a Diet Coke by mistake? Diet drinks with aspartame taste unbearably foul, like a chemical taste I can’t get out of my mouth. Diet soda tastes like I’d imagine drinking paint thinner must taste. It’s awful. Like, spit-it-out-of-your-mouth-as-quickly-as-you-can BAD.

I do realize the rest of the world is not afflicted with this, or diet sodas would not be as popular as they are :) My dad has the same taste issues I do. I don’t know if he’s ever done the “paper test” to confirm, but he can’t tolerate aspartame/Nutrasweet at all either.

Sucralose is its own evil. It’s sweet, but it has a sickeningly-sweet chemical taste. If I accidentally eat or drink something with it, I know immediately — it’s just nasty to me. I got a cup of hot cocoa at church a couple weeks ago, and as soon as I tasted it, I knew they had switched to a hot cocoa brand with sucralose. The girl who works at our church coffeehouse checked their mix, and sure enough — the new (non-diet) hot cocoa mix they were using had sucralose in it. No more cocoas for me :(

Other things taste better than I imagine they do for other people. Organic milk has a rich, buttery taste that borders on milkshake deliciousness for me. In contrast, I can taste the plastic in milk-jug milk & really prefer milk from cartons because of it. I love salty foods. Black licorice is divine. I also love most candies. Some things are too sweet — fake buttercream frosting from a bakery cake, for instance — some kinds are just too over-the-top sweet to the point that I can’t enjoy them. Fresh pineapple and Clementine oranges taste like candy to me. I could eat both all day long. Ditto anything with coconut in it.

So… all that said, stevia has its own taste for me which is either sweet or bitter, depending on how much is present. I’m not alone with this — even “regular tasters” can taste stevia’s bitterness if there’s too much of it. When the Crystal Light single-serve drink packets were cheap at Meijer recently, I noticed they had a new kind that’s a blend of sugar and stevia with no artificial sweeteners. They were cheap enough that I got some lemonade mix to try, and as I hesitantly sipped one, I was extremely (and pleasantly) surprised to note that they are good and don’t taste bitter to me.

As for the Coke Life, I really, really wanted to like it. But it was bitter and left a very unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth. I bought a 6-pack, and everyone else in the house tried it with me one night. Everyone else thought it was good, or at the very least, tasted fine, so… there you go.

I tried Zevia soda once, and I couldn’t drink more than a sip. Very, very bitter for me. (There’s that fine stevia line between sweet and bitter again…)

I find savory umami foods to be beyond delicious – I’m a sushi junkie, but I love really “fishy tasting” kinds many people eschew (raw mackerel is my favorite.) I love foods made with garlic, fish sauce, soy sauce. Bring on the REAL butter :)

I love cheese, especially really strong-flavored artisan cheeses. Earlier this year we stopped at a cheese shop in Wisconsin, and it was the most pleasant surprise on that weekend road trip, because the person running the shop invited us to taste all kinds of unusual cheeses we’d never had before — vanilla goats milk, cave-aged and so on. I was in heaven. The cave-aged cheeses were really interesting because nobody else in the family thought they were even palatable — they were looking for a napkin to spit them out..! I found them strange and enticing — I could taste the dampness, darkness, wetness of the cave in that cheese, and I liked it.

I love green tea, but any other variety of tea (black, flavored teas, regular iced tea, you name it) – no can do.

Now, you probably have an entirely new appreciation for that molecular gastronomic dining experience I attended a couple years ago :)

As far as not notifying consumers when the ingredients/label is changed — stevia is a natural ingredient, and I haven’t read anything about stevia being a potential allergen. I think it’s just becoming more important than ever to read the labels of pretty much everything before we buy it. Brands seem so concerned with reducing calories that they’re sacrificing product loyalty for it. I have not tried the new Sierra Mist, but if it’s as bitter as (normal) people are saying, I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy it either.

I’ve read up to 25% of people may be supertasters, so it’s not actually that unusual. And, what tastes good or bad to me may not be the case for everyone else, so I’m not sure it’s necessarily a “bonus.” I have also read that some supertasters are so sensitive that they can’t cook with plastic utensils, spatulas, and so on because they taste the plastic in the food. I don’t have that issue, thankfully.

The Sierra Mist stevia switch saves them 20 calories per cup – I would say, who cares, I’d rather have the sugar, the good, familiar taste, and a 140-calorie cup.



  1. pam and family says

    I LOVE Coke Life! I think it tastes so much better than both regular coke and diet coke. I didn’t find it bitter at all, like Zevia can be. I actually think if you put a can in a cup with ice, it tastes a lot like regular coke. I just wish it didn’t cost $2.99 a 6 pack, and that it was available in 12 packs already.

  2. hammar says

    I buy Sierra Mist for my husband all the time, when it’s on sale. I noticed the different label last fall. He mixes his pop with about half water. He emailed me from work, “did you buy diet pop?”. I looked at the front, said, ‘all natural’. Then I looked at the ingredients, last ingredient, stevia. No more Sierra Mist at our house.
    And yes, we were one of the complainers on FB.

  3. soapboxtray says

    I was curious how you liked the Coca-Cola Life. I recently stopped drinking (and eating but I was a big Diet Coke drinker) anything with artificial sweeteners in it. I tried the Coke Life and there seems to be a debate on the Coke Life twitter about Stevia being an artificial sweetener, however my good friend gets migraines with aspartame and Sucralose but not stevia so I took that as it being more natural and tried Coke Life and loved… hard to find, but I will drink regular coke as a treat and have really cut down on soda all together. Dasani and Lacroix are now my soda’s which trick me for an instant that I am drinking soda until the lack of flavor hits :-)

    If anyone knows where to find Coke Life 2L or 12 pack cans please post!

    Interesting tid bit about Jill the Supertaster! :-) thanks for sharing!

  4. MarlaPenley says

    Sierra Mist’s continued lack of response to the growing number of consumer complaints concerning the widely disliked new formula change adding purified Stevia leaf extract has prompted the creation of another Face Book page as well as a petition on! However, attempts of acquiring proper contact information for said petition have been thwarted by their consumer relations department thus far. Here are links for the above mentioned pages and any suggestions, advice or help in getting the word out on anyone’s part is deeply appreciated!

    Thanks so much!
    Marla Penley