Tab lovers hope to convince Coca-Cola to revive the once popular diet soda

Coca-Cola discontinued its once-groundbreaking Tab diet soda three years ago, and a tenacious group of fans is actively lobbying the company to reintroduce it to retail shelves.

On a sunny fall Friday last month, a dozen of them from across the country gathered at the World of Coca-Cola Museum and handed over a petition with 6,500 signatures and several handwritten pleas to a Coke executive who came over from headquarters less than a mile away.

“We thought it would be fun to celebrate Tab’s 60th anniversary in Atlanta,” said Adam Burbach, 41, of Lincoln, Nebraska, who organized the trip.

The group was given a VIP tour of the museum before spending more than 30 minutes in the dispensary room, which featured hundreds of sodas from all over the world. Why? There were also six Tab dispensers nearby.

Apart from a Coca-Cola store in Las Vegas and Disneyland in Anaheim, California, it’s one of the few places in the world where you can actually taste Tab. Most Tab fans had long since depleted their own supply and sipped the drink from tiny sample plastic cups with wistful satisfaction.

“Our tour guide assured us there was Tab, and we were like, ‘Woohoo!'” said Jenny Boyter, a retired school administrator from Buckhead who dressed up as a Tab can and handed out fans with the words “I’m a Tab fan!” The night before, she hosted a party for the Tab acolytes at her house, complete with Tab cookies, buttons, candles, and Christmas ornaments.

Coca-Cola created Tab, which is often stylized as TaB, in 1963 with a female audience in mind. It was one of the market’s first diet carbonated drinks. Tab initially used cyclamate as a sweetener, which was banned by the FDA in 1969 after evidence that it caused cancer in lab animals. The formula was then changed to saccharin.

“Great taste,” with its pink motif. The drink built a solid niche following over the next couple of decades, peaking at a 5.6% market share among all soda drinks in the United States in 1980, according to Beverage Digest, with its “One Calorie. TAB” slogan and “Beautiful People” jingle.

Coca-Cola introduced Diet Coke in 1982, quickly stealing Tab’s thunder with a taste that was more appealing to a wider audience. Over the next 38 years, Tab’s sales fell steadily. According to Beverage Digest, Tab sold only 1.4 million cases in 2019, compared to 636 million cases of Diet Coke. Tab is only vaguely known to younger generations, if at all.

Indeed, Burbach, the Save Tab committee’s organizer, was the youngest person at World of Coke that day. The majority of people were in their 50s and 60s.

Burbach said he was devastated when he learned in October 2020 that Tab would be discontinued. But he found some solace when he discovered several Facebook groups where people were lamenting Tab’s death. “How could we organize a group to be more strategic?” that’s what he said.

He bought the domain and began contacting members of various Facebook groups. Several people started holding weekly Zoom meetings to figure out how to get more support.

They’ve tried phone, letter writing, and social media campaigns so far. They raised funds and placed two billboards near Coke headquarters in 2022, pleading for Tab’s return. Nothing has worked so far. The most recent gambit was the petition and special trip to Atlanta, where many Tab fans met for the first time in person.

Vita Leftwich, a Tab drinker since 1974, said she bought 95 12-packs in December 2020. She’s down to one 12-pack. “It’s just very sad,” she explained.

Christy Wood, who flew into Atlanta from Littleton, Colorado, remembers where she was when she drank her first Tab like it was yesterday: “Mr. Steak in Salt Lake City on tap.” The flavor was fantastic. It made me feel fantastic.”

Andrea Ybarbo, of Mableton, points to her stash of Tab soda on Tuesday, November 21, 2023. Since Coca-Cola announced that the diet drink would be phased out in 2020, Ybarbo has been collecting as many cans as he can before they disappear from the shelves.

Andrea Ybarbo, 63, of Mableton, cried when she learned the drink was being phased out. She then went on an aggressive Tab hunt, finding 12 packs in Smyrna, Woodstock, Rome, and Savannah, as well as Amazon. She accumulated over 12,000 cans of Tab. Tab cans were once stacked to the ceiling in her living room.

Three years later, her supply has dwindled to approximately 1,000 cans, which she keeps in her dining room. Ybarbo consumes eight to twelve a day on average and rarely goes more than two waking hours without one. She also makes it a daily habit to call the Coca-Cola 1-800 customer service number and explain her situation.

“I drink it every day and it’s wonderful,” Ybarbo said at the World of Coca-Cola. “It’s past its expiration date, but it still tastes great!” I had four before coming here this morning. When I get home, I’ll drink some more.”

Ybarbo, who is diabetic, will be out of Tab in a matter of months unless Coca-Cola brings it back soon. She stated that there are no alternatives.

“It’s going to be a hard day when my stash is gone,” she predicted. The flavor is one-of-a-kind. The flavor has a nice tang to it. It’s flawless. I might need to go to rehab!”

Burbach believes that Coca-Cola bet everything on Diet Coke beginning in the 1980s, starving Tab’s marketing budget.

“There were a lot of people who were drinking Tab, but it became harder and harder to find over the years,” said Burbach.

Coca-Cola has been able to dual market two primary diet options in recent years: Diet Coke and Coke Zero Sugar. While Coke Zero has surpassed Diet Coke in market share, the two drinks together have more than a 10% market share among carbonated soda drinks in retail, and Diet Coke remains the fifth most popular soda brand overall.

Burbach believes there is still enough demand and has reached out to Coca-Cola’s regional bottlers. “We’re trying to find a bottler,” said Burbach. “If we can find one that is interested, that would give us an opportunity to purchase it.”

He even said they’d be open to a bottler releasing Tab seasonally, giving hardcore fans a chance to stock up.

According to a recent Beverage Digest article, there is some interest from bottlers who believe it could work as an e-commerce option. Coca-Cola, according to Duane Stanford, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest in Atantla, would have to approve such a move.

“I don’t think there’s any serious movement in that direction based on conversations with Coke,” Stanford went on to say.

When contacted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for comment, Coca-Cola declined to say whether the drink would be brought back.

Instead, they issued the following statement: “We appreciate the SaveTaBSoda Committee’s dedication to the TaB brand.” We’re thrilled that TaB’s legacy will live on inside the World of Coca-Cola’s Beverage Lab, where guests can learn more about the ‘Pink Pioneer’ and sample the iconic beverage.”

While the drink isn’t readily available at your local QT or Kroger, Coca-Cola’s official merchandise store still sells Tab T-shirts ($29.95), mugs ($19.95), and phone cases ($24.95).

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