By RICH FOLEY
Longtime readers of this column know I don’t mind poking a little fun at the Coca-Cola Company every now and then, especially when they do something I find amusing. For once, they can relax because this week, it’s their arch rivals at Pepsi who have me chuckling.
Pepsi is the latest company to jump on the bandwagon of those stopping the use of the artificial sweetener Aspartame. Starting this month, Diet Pepsi will be made with a combination of other sweeteners. It’s already on the shelf in some areas. Pepsi’s announcement is what really got my attention.
Pepsi reached out to those who love their Diet Pepsi just like it is, a product I guess we now have to call Diet Pepsi Classic. The company said it would find a way for those who still prefer their Diet Pepsi with Aspartame to obtain it online. I’m curious to see how this might work.
I remember several years ago when the United States Postal Service sent me an offer to buy me lunch. I filled out their form with my preferences and in return, received a color photo of my chosen sandwich. If you send Pepsi a snapshot of yourself suffering from thirst, will Pepsi e-mail you a photo of a can of Diet Pepsi, complete with Aspartame? If that’s really the case, let me know how that works out for you.
But if a real Internet solution to your Aspartame craving doesn’t sound feasible (just think of the shipping costs alone to mail you a 12 pack), maybe a trip out of the country would work. If Pepsi’s Tropicana division’s plans are on schedule, a short jaunt to India could get you a taste of a new fruit juice drink made from the cashew apple. Don’t worry, until recently, I didn’t know there was such a thing, either.
As it turns out, cashews grow on trees. Farmers pick the nut, and usually let the stem, known as a cashew apple, fall to the ground as waste. Left there, the apple quickly begins to ferment.
According to a New York Times article, Pepsi became aware of cashew apples a few years ago when an executive in Brazil was shown the rotting fruit in an orchard. The company was intrigued by the possibility of using the fruit, but concerned about how fast it ferments. “That’s a risk for us,” one executive commented. “We can’t have Tropicana with alcohol in it.” Actually, I think such a product, properly marketed, could be a big winner for Pepsi.
The cashew apple is used on a small scale in Brazil and Thailand. Various websites claim it has a large amount of Vitamin C, along with the usual rumors that it “helps burn fat and enhances sexual performance.” Want to bet that Pepsi’s lawyers won’t be allowing any such claims in its advertising?
Tropicana is introducing cashew apple juice in India this year as part of a mixed juice drink, replacing more expensive juices like pineapple and banana. PepsiCo India’s senior manager of juice and juice drinks said, “The cashew apple is exotic and appealing, and we think it is a premium product.”
Cashew tree farmers were a bit confused at first when Pepsi contacted them, wanting to buy what they had always thrown away or simply left to rot. “I thought it was a little strange that they wanted to buy cashew apples,” farmer Sanjay Pandit told the Times, “but I didn’t like to question a new source of money.” Smart man–I predict a great future for him.
Pepsi enlisted the help of the Clinton Foundation in their efforts. The former president’s organization had previously shown an interest in a Pepsi initiative to include small farmers in its worldwide supply chains. The foundation has started a business in India to assist farmers in increasing their yields and help create a bigger market for cashew apples.
There’s no word yet on whether Bill Clinton has tried the result of his foundation’s work. If he has, and he liked it, would it be appropriate for a former president to endorse a commercial product? If not, there’s always Hillary or Chelsea.
It will be interesting to see how this experiment works out for Pepsi, which is hoping that cashew apple juice might become the next coconut water. If so, then how long before they develop and market Cashew Pepsi here in the United States? And how long will it be until the folks at Coca-Cola come up with their own version, or maybe something even weirder?