May 18, 2012 at 2:09 PM ET
It probably says something more about America than it does about 7-Eleven, but starting this month the retailer is rolling out a product that seems right for its time: a sugar-free Slurpee.
Fanta Sugar-Free Mango is this month’s diet flavor. 7-Eleven said it has spent two years coming up with the formula for a simple reason: customer demand.
“For years we’ve gotten calls through our guest relations hot line, ‘When are you going to have a diet Slurpee?’” company spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said. The calls have come not only from the weight-conscious but from diabetics and those with other nutritional issues, she said.
“We worked at that formula for two years, trying to nail the right attributes of the Slurpee. Not just the taste. But you need to have Slurpee all the way to the bottom of the cup, not just water and ice.”
Cost will be the same as a standard Slurpee. Formulas may differ, but for example the Fanta Wild Cherry is 66 calories for 8 ounces. The diet equivalent is 20 calories. It will be available at all participating 6,700 7-Elevens in the U.S.
It's unknown how many people, if any, drink Slurpees in 8-ounce servings. According to 7-Eleven literature, each year Americans drink enough Slurpees to fill 44 Olympic-sized swimming pools
It also makes business sense to try something new. Americans are drinking fewer soft drinks -- although it’s still about two a day for each person.
“The whole carbonated soft drink category is down,” said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, a trade publication. “Between 2000 and 2011, though the soft drink category has been losing volume, diets grew from 24.7 (percent) of the business to 29.1 percent.”
This marks the first time 7-Eleven has tried its own diet Slurpee recipe. The company previously tried a Diet Pepsi and a Crystal Light Slurpee.
“Those didn’t last long,” Chabris said.
According to company research, Chabris said, “Just under 50 percent say they would drink a diet frozen beverage. Most of that 50 percent would do it occasionally, and there is a small group that would drink only diet.”
Elisa Zied, a registered dietitian, said low-cal, artificially sweetened drinks like the Slurpee aren’t necessarily bad for you, but consumers should mix it up.
“Anything you drink provides fluids for your body and helps hydrate you. A drink is a drink is a drink. But it’s important to look at all of these drinks in terms of how much you are drinking each day.”
Diet drinks can be an issue “when you over-rely on these beverages and you don’t get enough healthy options,” she said.
The Slurpee Lite is sweetened with Splenda. Other flavors coming up: Strawberry Banana and Cherry Lemonade. The company won’t disclose much beyond that, as new flavors are generally kept secret.
“We have committed to flavors through most of the rest of the year,” Chabris said. “We think it has big potential, as long as we make sure it has the same consistency.”