That '70s Drink

Coke plans to revive Tab

ATLANTA -- Bell-bottoms came back into style, more than once. Disco had a resurgence. People are even wearing shirts with little alligators on them again. So why not Tab?

Coca-Cola Co. aims to capitalize on the kitsch quality of the drink, which was popular in the 60s and 70s but has largely disappeared from shelves, said the Associated Press.

Early next year, Coca-Cola will relaunch Tab with a decidedly modern twist. The new Tab will be an energy drink, meaning it will be loaded with caffeine.

Tab Energy, [image-nocss] which Coke's bottlers tasted in meetings last week in Atlanta, will come in skinny, pink, 10.5-oz. cans with the old Tab logo and energy in small yellow letters, said AP, citing materials from the meetings. The target market for the low-calorie drink, which does not taste like the original Tab, is young women.

Coca-Cola spokesperson Scott Williamson declined to comment on Tab Energy.

This is the latest chapter in a long story for Tab, once the most popular diet drink on the market. Launched in 1963, it was sweetened with a mix of saccharin and cyclamates until the latter were banned in 1969. The drink has been reformulated several times and is now flavored with a saccharin-aspartame combination. Tab's star dimmed significantly in the 80s, when the company introduced Diet Coke. The company quit advertising Tab in 1987.

A small but fiercely devoted fan base has continued to drink Tab. They have websites to celebrate Tab's metallic flavor and share information about finding the drink. The original Tab is not going away, said the company.

In recent years, something happened that Coca-Cola had not really planned on. Tab got cool. As retro T-shirts came back into style, Target, Urban Outfitters and other retailers began stocking weathered-looking shirts with the Tab logo. Characters on That 70s Show guzzle the drink. The cans also appeared in the Austin Powers movies.

Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture and TV at Syracuse University who devotes a lecture in his pop-culture class to drinks, said Tab was the perfect brand to cash in on the retro, nostalgia, second-time-around industry, which is huge in this country. Tab, he said, was iconic of that period. The fact that it went away makes it even more so.

Internally at Coca-Cola, Tab has also enjoyed a heightened status recently. Chairman and CEO Neville Isdell, who took the helm of the company last year, drinks Tab, even in high-profile places, like the podium at investor conferences.

If Coke is able to turn Tab Energy into a hit, the financial payoff could be significant. Though still small, the category is fast-growing and has fat margins. An energy drink at a convenience store costs about $2, significantly more than a soft drink.

Already this year, Coca-Cola has added two energy drinks, Full Throttle and Rockstar, to its portfolio. Next month it will launch Von Dutch Energy Drink, named after the fashion brand known for trucker caps and $150-plus bluejeans. Both Rockstar and Von Dutch are owned by Las Vegas-based Rockstar. Coca-Cola and its largest bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises, have a distribution deal with Rockstar.

The growth of energy drinks has been fueled primarily by young men. Coca-Cola is hoping to hook women with Tab Energy's dark pink cans.

Energy is just one piece of the company's strategy to develop new niche categories, necessary as sales of regular soft drinks decline in the United States. In addition to Tab Energy, bottlers said they got a taste last week of Coca-Cola Blak, a carbonated coffee cola, and Dasani Sensations, flavored sparkling water. Both are set to launch next year.

The company plans to package Coca-Cola Blak in an 8-oz. glass bottle shaped like an old-fashioned Coke bottle. The bottle will be black and have gold writing, according to materials distributed to bottlers at the meeting, said AP. Dasani Sensations will come in two flavors, mixed berry and lemon-lime. A national advertising campaign for Dasani Sensations is set to kick off during the Academy Awards, according to the materials.

Williamson declined to comment on Coca-Cola Blak and Dasani Sensations.

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