Tab soda was one of the most recognizable and popular pops in the 1960s and 70s. But as new soda varieties were invented and one particularly direct competitor came into the market, Tab eventually declined in popularity so much that many believe the soda is now discontinued entirely.
So is Tab soda still available? Yes, it is. You can still find Tab soda at certain stores and grocery aisles across the United States and even in a few other countries. However, sightings of the soda are rare since only a bit over a million cases are produced each year. There are sections of the United States where Tab is not sold at all.
Tab originally diminished in popularity as Diet Coke was introduced in the 1980s. Since Tab’s market was diet-soda-drinkers, this was a huge blow to its consumer base. Nowadays, many fans seek out locations where Tab is still sold or will purchase Tab from online markets to get their fix. Although efforts have been made to update the Tab formula (in such experiments as an energy drink), the soda continues to survive thanks to its cult following above all else.
A brief history of Tab releases;
|Caffeine Free Tab||1983|
|Tab Black Cherry||1970s|
|Tab Ginger Ale||1970s|
|Tab Root Beer||1970s|
|Tab (Southern African Customs Union variant)||1990s|
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Tab is Still Around in Certain Places
You can still find Tab soda thanks to the cult following that it has gathered over the decades. Dedicated drinkers produce enough of a profit that Coke hasn’t yet fully eliminated the pop from its rotation.
In 2008, in fear of Tab being discontinued by the Coca-Cola Company, fans purchased about 3 million cases of the soda to protest its apparent discontinuation. Whether because of these purchases or because of internal analyses, Coca-Cola ultimately decided not to discontinue Tab entirely and instead produce it on a very limited scale.
Since around 2011, Tab has been difficult to find in areas such as Hawaii, Oklahoma, Alaska, and most of central and northern California. Many parts of Kansas and Missouri also do not frequently receive Tab soda shipments. While you can find Tab soda in many parts of New York, Buffalo notably lacks the city in many cases.
In addition, much of the American South and Midwestern states around Indiana do not receive Tab soda distribution. The Coca-Cola company simply doesn’t ship Tab anywhere near these geographic locations. Locals from these areas must secure their supply of the soda with more difficulty.
However, you can frequently find Tab soda in much of the New York State area, the Northeastern states, and some parts of Texas and/or Nevada. Sightings are rare, and stocks of Tab tend to sell out very quickly due to the soda’s hidden popularity.
Outside of the contiguous United States, you can find Tab soda in the US Virgin Islands, Spain, Norway, and, curiously, the Southern African Customs Union.
While Tab was initially available in Australia from the 1960s to the 1980s, it is no longer sold in that country. Similarly, Tab could be found in the United Kingdom from the 1970s to the 1990s, but it’s no longer produced there, either.
Overall, the best way to purchase Tab for many people will be to find the soda online and purchase it directly from a retailer. Target and some other shops frequently sell the soda in packs of 12, although they never have much of the product, to begin with.
What Is Tab Soda?
Tab was first introduced in 1963 by the Coca-Cola Company. It was developed to be a competitor against Pepsi’s diet soft drink and other rising diet soda beverages, as Coca-Cola did not yet have a primary “diet” version of its own flagship product. Tab was Coca-Cola’s first diet soft drink and was primarily popular through the 1960s (see our Top 24 Sodas from the 60s here) and 70s.
As a diet drink, Tab is usually consumed by those who are trying to lower their weight gain without having to give up a sweet drink to consume alongside their meals. The name even references this objective; a marketing campaign for the soda once said that those who drink it wanted to “keep tabs” on their weight.
The drink is usually sold in a pinkish-red can with stylized lettering. The lettering depicts the name of the soda as “TaB”.
Since Tab has caffeine, it hits many of the major energy-boosting buttons that favorite soda pops are known to do even if it doesn’t have real sugar in its formula. The additive that makes up its primary sweetening taste is sodium saccharin.
Tab’s original taste is generically sweet and carbonated. It’s the same main flavor produced today. Strawberry, lemon-lime, black cherry, root beer, ginger ale, and orange varieties all came into being throughout the 1970s as the soft drink exploded in popularity.
A 1980s caffeine-free Tab soft drink was developed, although it did not last beyond the decade due to a lack of interest. The 1990s saw the development of Tab Clear, which is colorless and also saw poor results that resulted in its cancellation.
2006 saw the development of Tab Energy in an attempt to revitalize the brand. Instead of the diet drink, Tab Energy is an energy beverage that has a completely different formula can the soda pop. Tab Energy did not last long, ironically being discontinued much more quickly than the original soda.
Why Did Tab Decline In Popularity?
Tab’s overall decline in popularity can be traced to a single incident: the introduction of Diet Coke in 1982. While Diet Coke took over a year to smash Tab’s market share, the damage was done permanently and the soft drink never recovered the same popularity that it enjoyed before Diet Coke came around.
Diet Coke was simply too good majority of the public to pass up. It had all of the healthy beneficial effects that diet sodas proclaimed while adhering to most of the classic Coke formula that people loved. While Tab is a diet drink through and through, it tastes distinctly different from regular Coke.
Ironically, Tab had fared perfectly well against Diet Pepsi and the other main competitors of the Coca-Cola Company. It was only when Coke introduced their own major diet alternative for their flagship drink that they ended up spelling Tab’s downfall.
However, although Tab lost many in its consumer base, a small following of dedicated drinkers managed to keep Coca-Cola from closing down distribution of the soft drink entirely. Dedicated purchasing proved that a small market for the soda still existed.
Nowadays, Coca-Cola only bottles very small amounts of the drink due to its low relative popularity.
In 2017, for instance, Tab only made up about 0.03% of the beverage sales for the Coca-Cola Company. That’s 1.5 million cases compared to the 6 billion beverages sold by the company as a whole.
Tab and Saccharin Safety
While this was not related to Tab’s decline in popularity, the soda did become one of the focuses of a minor debate surrounding the use of a certain sweetener in its formula.
Initially, Tab was developed with saccharin and cyclamate as its paired sweeteners. Since cyclamate was banned in 1969 by the FDA, sodium saccharin ended up being the primary sweetener in the beverage from that point on.
But the 1970s saw several studies which found that saccharin and cyclamate both were linked to the development of bladder cancer. Since there was not yet any proof that saccharin was to blame for the uptick in cancer sightings, the United States Congress mandated that any saccharin using products needed to warn the consumer that the sweetener may be harmful.
In 1984, Coca-Cola replaced the presence of saccharin as Tab’s primary sweetener with Nutrasweet. Although Tab was already on the decline as a result of the introduction of Diet Coke, this did not help matters and ended up lowering overall popularity further. Many fans of Tab detected a noticeable change in the flavor of the beverage.
After further testing did not prove that saccharin was responsible for the increased rates of bladder cancer, saccharin was reintroduced to the Tab soda formula in 2000. This allowed fans of the soft drink to experience the flavors as they originally remembered them. The warning labels for drinks and foods that contain saccharin as a sweetener additive were also removed.
A Resurgent Soft Drink
Due to Diet Coke’s overall popularity relative to Tab, it’s not likely that the soda will ever be able to reclaim its former glory or ever emerge from its status as a cool soda.
But Tab is now experiencing a possible revitalization thanks to the connective power of the Internet. Soda enthusiasts and small-brand soda lovers are now able to collaborate and locate areas where they can purchase the elusive soda pop. In addition, the Internet has now allowed a new generation of young people to try the flavor of Tab and learn whether they like it or not for themselves.
Time will tell whether or not Tab will ever ascend in popularity and inspire the Coca-Cola company to create more cases of the product. It may remain a small soda with a dedicated following or it just might experience a second heyday if enough young people try it out and discover that they, too, enjoy its unique flavor.
Feature Image @ Flickr Courtesy of Rchappo200