(“Tab spinoff digs up memories of nasty original,” The Journal Gazette, February 11, 2006 – by Sherry Slater)
When I read recently that the Coca-Cola Co. is launching an updated version of Tab, memories started fizzing and bubbling in my brain.
My mom bought that disgusting diet cola for about five years when I was a kid. We gulped it down because, even though we hated the taste of it, it was still pop. And it was supposed to be helping us lose weight.
When she thinks back to those days, my mother recalls being â€œaddictedâ€� to Tab.
So was Renee Wright. The Fort Wayne woman describes herself as a heavy Tab drinker in the early through mid-â€™80s. She picked up the habit while working at a Warsaw advertising agency, her first job after graduation.
â€œI had somehow missed the time in college when you were supposed to learn how to drink coffee, so Tab gave me a much-needed little jolt of caffeine, especially right around 3 in the afternoon, when hours at my desk writing brochures about hog flooring and slurry pumps had worn me down,â€� she said in an e-mail reply to an interview request.
But even Wright had to train her taste buds.
â€œAt first I found the saccharine taste downright nasty, but I grew accustomed to it,â€� she wrote. â€œI started drinking more of it, and ultimately was going through three or four cans in a typical afternoon. When I moved to Fort Wayne, however, I didnâ€™t see Tab around, so I started drinking Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi.â€�
Tab seemed to disappear in the 1980s after health officials released a study linking cancer with saccharin, an artificial sweetener found in Tab.
The reformulated version, scheduled to hit store shelves this month, is being christened Tab Energy. Letâ€™s refer to Coca-Colaâ€™s powerful public relations machine for a description:
â€œWhile Tab Energy shares the Tab brand name, it is not a cola. It is a completely new energy drink created especially for women. The deliciously crisp and lightly carbonated pink beverage is sugar-free, with only five calories per 10.5 ounce can. Tab Energy will be available in eye-catching, fashionably pink cans and four-packs.â€�
So why would company officials want to associate such a spiffy new product with the potential taste- and health-related baggage carried by the Tab name?
Itâ€™s all about cashing in on a recognizable brand and the nostalgia it can evoke, according to Stephanie Childs, spokeswoman for the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The Washington-based trade group represents about 140 brand-name food, beverage and consumer products companies.
â€œWhen it comes to brands, consumers know and trust their favorite brands,â€� she said. â€œCompanies are well aware of how different brands are perceived by different groups of people. Nostalgia is important.â€�
Bottom line: Manufacturers want to make things that people will buy. Thatâ€™s how they make a profit and stay in business. And people are more likely to buy a product thatâ€™s familiar â€“ or at least sounds familiar â€“ than one theyâ€™ve never heard of.
True confession time: While working on this column, I found a 12-pack of the original formula at Wal-Mart and bought it. But I havenâ€™t been brave enough to crack open a can yet.
All this talk about brands from my childhood is making me nostalgic. Remember Fresca? Thatâ€™s another pioneering diet drink I could barely stomach. I called my sister. My brother-in-law remembers loving Wink as a kid, kind of a lime-flavored soda.
What do you remember? Iâ€™m inviting readers to e-mail or call me with memories of their favorite food and drink brands from 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years ago. Iâ€™ll share any responses in a future column and also try to find some of this stuff for sale in local stores.
Hey, send me a really great story and I might even share some of my Tab stash with you. Calm down, â€¦ that wasnâ€™t a threat. Some people actually like the stuff.
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