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There is something of a defense as to why I waited so long to review the Pepsi Next line. This is mostly the fact that my excitement level over this line was somewhere in the "shoulder shrug" level of anticipation. There was also more than a little confusion as why why Pepsi was so excited about this concept since, well, they've already done it.
I'm sure there are some ingredient differences between Pepsi Next and Pepsi Edge, but the overall concept is the same - "Do you love compromises? Then you'll love this reduced-calorie cola!" I remember thinking Pepsi Edge was pretty good, but overall pointless. Most people are either willing to ingest calories to drink a sweetened soda, or are willing to ingest chemicals and a weird taste to ingest no calories with their soda. The middle ground group has got to be pretty small.
Apparently there's enough of an audience where Pepsi was willing to try it again.
As a name, I'm not a big fan of "Pepsi Next". The "Next" what? The next popular soda? No. The next trend in cola? No. The next evolution in diet soda? No. The next soda to be added to the ever-growing list of failed sodas on Pepsi's Wikipedia page? Almost certainly.
To their credit, Pepsi took something of a risk with their debut flavors. We got the standard plain cola, but then they also came out with a flavor that is hit or miss with a lot of people, and a flavor that is a pretty left field choice. Since that's about as far as I go with suspense and anticipation, let's get to the breakdown!
Aesthetically speaking, the can design is... what's the most poetic way of saying this... pretty bad. I've always hated Pepsi's swoosh logo redesign, and them adding a big swoosh next to it doesn't help matters. Maybe the "Next" symbolizes the next trend in packaging design, which is forcing your customers to tilt their head sideways to see the name of the product. Progress!
While all of these flavors are almost guaranteed to die an ignominious death, the one that probably has the best chance at survival is Plain. It's not actually called "Plain", but you knew exactly which one I meant when I said that, so that title works for it.
Unfortunately, the presence of an apple cider glass brings back memories of Pepsi Holiday Spice, a flavor we are unlikely to ever see again. Not that I loved Holiday Spice, I just appreciated the truly "going for it" aspect of that flavor.
Plain's flavor is easy to sum up: it tastes almost exactly like Pepsi. Which is great - the product did what it was intended to do. But just like with Pepsi Edge, I keep coming back to the near-redundancy of it. There is room for multiple variations of diet - Coke pulls of Diet Coke right next to Coke Zero, while Pepsi has Diet Pepsi next to Pepsi Max.
The problem with Next is that it has a lot about it that puts off a multitude of types of people. Diabetics can't drink it, people who refuse to ingest artificial sweeteners won't drink it, and those purists who demand glass-bottled cola from Mexico ("Cane sugar is so much more tasty!") won't go near it. So you've got the niche group of people who are okay with drinking this sort-of regular cola. That seems like a tough way to keep a line alive.
No wonder they can't afford to make another commercial besides that break dancing baby one. Have they made another? I've only seen that one aired. In fact, I saw it earlier today. What an exciting anecdote that was!
I will try to stop annoyingly harping on the "Who is the target market?" point, and attempt to just talk about the soda itself.
Plain Pepsi Next does what it claims - gets an almost-regular cola taste with 90 less calories per can. So if you climbed a couple of flights of stairs and thusly have 60 calories to spare, you can definitely go for this over Diet Pepsi.
Cherry Vanilla seems like a somewhat risky debut flavor. Cherry is a no-brainer - cherry colas are awesome. But introducing vanilla to the mix is where things get shady. I like vanilla cola. Real vanilla cola, as in fountain cola with vanilla syrup in it is unbelievable. Packaged vanilla colas are often good, but the diminishing returns set in quickly. If I get a twelve pack of Vanilla Zero, it will last me a while. While I like the taste, getting through a whole can feels like an accomplishment.
The first two non-plain flavors of Next indicate an almost "Why the hell not?" attitude by Pepsi that I legitimately appreciate. The flavor choices are close in riskiness to the flavors in Pepsi's very bizarre Jazz line. In fact, cherry vanilla was a Jazz flavor.
So while vanilla in cola often tastes good, it's never been an especially refreshing flavor. You're not likely to think, "Man, it's hot out - I am really thirsty. Do we have any vanilla-flavored cola?"
Despite all of that, I'm not predisposed to disliking a flavor like this. I love trying new soda varieties (what an exciting life I lead!) I would have preferred to see what a Next with only cherry tasted like, especially after seeing how well they pulled off plain cola. But I guess Pepsi figured that there's a chance plain Next could live with the other plains, but a Cherry Next would cannibalize too much of the cherry Diet Pepsi sales.
The Cherry Vanilla Next is quite good. It doesn't have any of that cough syrup flavor you sometimes get with a diet cherry flavor. Even better, the vanilla seems slightly dialed back in the mix compared to the cherry flavor, so it doesn't have that heavy "vanilla" aspect to it.
Even still, about 3/4 of the way through the can, the novelty was starting to wear off. Which isn't to say I wouldn't have it again - this is my usual MO with vanilla colas... I can only have so much of it at a time.
Judging Next solely on taste, and not on a "at what point is X amount of calories worth it vs. having a normal sweetened soda" basis, it's been successful so far. Both flavors have been legitimately good. Time for the wild card.
I've genuinely never understood the economics behind the more out-there soda flavors, especially cola varieties. Do they just want to sell a bunch based on the curiosity aspect? Are they truly hoping to find a niche audience?
There are some flavors that, just by looking at the name, you can safely say, "This won't last." Paradise Mango Next is one of those flavors. Which isn't to say it isn't going to be good - it's just too weird. Mango is too hit or miss of a flavor to be reliable. When mango is good, it's awesome. When it's bad, it has a very present "rancidity" quality that makes you want to use the word "feet" as an adjective.
Again, at the very least it does make me pleased with whoever green-lit these flavors, for at least not being the norm.
The initial taste is confusing. You have the cola and you have the mango, but they don't seem to make sense together. Then, after a few sips, they start to go together. Then, about halfway into the can, they don't anymore. The problem is, the mango aspect is such a strong flavor. It's a welcome surprise at first, then it becomes an intrusive guest who begins to overstay its welcome.
Given the oddness of the flavor, this could have been much worse. The fact that most of the can is enjoyable is surprising in and of itself.
If I see the Pepsi Next line in stores in six months, I'll be surprised. I won't be upset, since the product is good. In fact, I'll even be happy if I see a couple of new flavors, since given the ones we've gotten so far, they're likely to be something odd. So even if they don't wind up being classic flavors, they should at least be interesting.
Bonus Belated Soda Review!
Since it had been a few weeks since they last introduced a new flavor, it was time for a new variety of Mountain Dew. When stores stock all the varieties, the Mountain Dew section has gotten insane. There's like seven flavors of sugar versions, and two diet. Although I thought there were supposed to be three ongoing diet varieties. While I wanted Diet Voltage to win last year, I came around to Supernova. And just as I was really starting to want more of it, stores stopped carrying it. This Dewmocracy is a sham!
While The Dark Knight Rises didn't manage to best The Avengers at the box office, it did get its own flavor of soda. The Avengers just had to hang out on Dr. Pepper cans.
Having Batman staring at you from the can does put the calories in a can of soda into perspective. Bale almost seems to be glaring at you, thinking "The 170 calories in this soda is almost as many calories as I took in while prepping for The Machinist, you obese cretin!"
The flavor did not sound very exciting. "Dark Berry" was what they described as "Dew with a blast of mixed berry". What's the deal with the alternate Mountain Dews - they always say "Dew with a blast of mixed berry / orange / whatever the current new flavor is". Is "Dew" supposed to be some sort of state of mind? Because these flavors never taste like they added the new flavor to the existing Mountain Dew recipe. I'm sure I'm over-thinking this, but it bugs me.
Dark Berry does have a pretty intense glass presence. In normal lighting, it lives up to the "Dark" name, while having a much lighter foam, so the contrast is cool looking. But when you hold it up to the light, it becomes a truly awesome shade of blue:
This is probably all just a natural (well not natural, given the ingredients - I just mean "not intended") part of the soda's coloring, and not meant to be some sort of statement on the different aspect of Batman's psychology. But pose this question on any number of internet message boards, and I'm sure someone can come up with 3,000 words on how the various colors are a metaphor.
The taste is good, although nothing too memorable. It tastes like a melted ice pop. Not a straight up blue ice pop - maybe a blue mixed with a strawberry. Isn't this what Pepsi Blue tasted like?
It's not a flavor I'd see going for too long, but as a temporary summer flavor, it does the job. Although for almost the same number of calories, I'd probably rather drink three cans of Pepsi Next. See how well I brought this article full circle? If only I could have thought of a catchy last sentence.
Talk to me Now or Later