NEW YORK (AP) — PepsiCo Inc. is giving away at least 10 million free cans of Sierra Mist Natural this weekend at Wal-Mart stores to introduce its new version of the lemon-lime soda, which now includes sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.
The company announced last month it was remaking the drink by also removing preservatives. It added "Natural" to the name to cater to shoppers' desire to avoid artificial ingredients and launched a major marketing campaign, spending what it normally spends in a year to market the billion-dollar brand in the last quarter.
On Saturday, the company will give out the millions of cans at 2,800 Walmart supercenters, spending at least $3 million on the giveaway alone.
PepsiCo also removed high fructose corn syrup from Gatorade this year.
People are concerned that high fructose corn syrup is more harmful or more likely to cause obesity than sugar, perceptions for which there is little scientific evidence.
The shift has caused a slump in soft drink sales and a rise in sales of juices and teas, which are perceived as healthier than soda. The nation's makers of high fructose corn syrup are even asking the government if they can start referring to the sweetener as "corn sugar" to change perceptions.
Now PepsiCo is going after people who are no longer drinking soft drinks or people who switched to competitors, said Kristina Mangelsdorf, vice president of natural and flavored sodas at PepsiCo, which is based in Purchase, N.Y.
"They're saying I want a soda that has nothing artificial," she said.
The diet version of the drink will still have artificial sweeteners.
The emphasis of nature in the new marketing is strong. A new television ad has talking boulders who dream of having mouths so they can drink Sierra Mist Natural. The new tagline? "The soda nature would drink, if nature drank soda." PepsiCo also lightened up the labels on the drinks, changing them from blue to white and making pictures of lemon and lime more prominent.
Mangelsdorf said the company was able to bring the new drink to market in just six months, about half the time it would typically take to develop a new product because PepsiCo now owns its bottlers. The company bought its two largest North American bottlers this year so it could be quicker to market with new products and control distribution.