Soft Drink Makers All Seeking Natural Sweeteners

New York -- The top three U.S. soft-drink makers, Coca-Cola Co, PepsiCo Inc and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc, are all working to develop a natural low-calorie sweetener aimed at health-conscious consumers.

"We all have scientists working right now to blend new combinations of these new top-secret (that we all know about) sweeteners that are out there", said Randy Gier, executive vice president of marketing for Dr Pepper Snapple on Monday.

"It's just a matter of time until you see a major breakthrough."

Coca-Cola Co has been working with agribusiness and commodity trading group Cargill Inc on a sweetener called Truvia, which is made from a South American herb called stevia. Cargill, which will market the product as a tabletop sweetener, said in May that it will be on the market this year.

Speaking on Monday at a conference hosted by beverage industry newsletter Beverage Digest, Coke's North American chief marketing officer, Katie Bayne, declined to say which drinks would use the new sweetener, or whether it was more appropriate for carbonated drinks like Diet Coke or still drinks like diet iced teas or juices.

PepsiCo is also working on a similar product from the same plant, which is native to Paraguay. Spokesman Dave DeCecco said the company had a supply and would be ready to market it when U.S. health regulators approve it.

Drinks containing this sweetener would likely be marketed to health-food stores and grocers, such as Whole Foods Market Inc, which prefer items without artificial sweeteners.