Now relegated to the bottom shelf at the end of the soft drink aisle, Tab was once a pioneer, blazing a beverage trail that many others would emulate. It wasn’t the first sugarless cola but, at one time, it was certainly the most popular. Today, one look at those bright pink cans harkens memories of the oft-maligned soft drink, one that made its mark and still manages to hang on amidst a sea of sugar-free competition.

When RC Cola introduced Diet Rite cola in 1962, the populace wasn’t nearly as health-conscious as today. Still, there was enough of a market for their biggest competitor, Coca-Cola, to take notice. Coke set out to create their own sugar-free product and used one of those newfangled computers to generate a list of four-letter product names that contained only one vowel. Through the process of elimination, they settled on Tabb, then decided to drop the extra-letter. The marketing department took over and Tab was offered to the public as a great way to keep tabs on your weight (get it?), while still enjoying the taste of a delicious soft drink.

Sales were slow at first, especially in a country not exactly known for calorie-counting at the time. As a result, Coca-Cola began targeting ads towards women which suggested that one could keep their slim shape with Tab, which would help them find and keep a man. Sales shot through the roof and it wasn’t long before Tab introduced other flavors, including Root Beer, Lemon-lime and Orange Tab.

To replace the sugar, Tab originally relied on the same artificial sweetener used in Diet Rite called cyclamate. When that chemical was banned by the FDA in 1969, everybody switched to saccharin. Unfortunately, questions arose about the safety of saccharine at the time and, although it wasn’t banned, manufacturers were required to place warning labels on any product that contained it. Sales suffered as a result, and Coca-Cola dealt a death blow to Tab in 1982 with the introduction of Diet Coke, which replaced most of the saccharine with aspertame.

Die-hard fans would have none of this, swearing by their little pink cans of diet goodness. As a result, Coca-cola has always kept Tab on the market, and it is still sweetened by saccharine, whose dangers eventually proved to be a tad overblown. Tab has also introduced other versions over the years, including Clear Tab in 1993 (which fizzled rather quickly) and an energy drink bearing the Tab name in 2006. These products proved less than memorable, but the original Tab still sells some three-million cases a year.

That number pales in comparison to the amount of Diet Coke sold, but it proves that the original Tab remains popular enough to continue its production. Fans of this pioneer of the sugar-free soft drink world can all breathe a sigh of relief.

Are you one of the people that never made the switch from Tab to Diet Coke, or did those warning labels scare you away back in the day? We’d love to hear all of your memories of this sugar-free soft drink in our comments section below.

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