In summer 2022, a hot-pink digital billboard popped up downtown near the headquarters of the Coca-Cola Co., bearing a series of paeans to the diet beverage TaB: “I’m saving a can of TaB to be buried with me.” “I spent more for my last TaB than I did on my wedding dress.” Here and in Buckhead, the billboards were paid for by the SaveTaBSoda Committee, which formed after Coca-Cola put a number of underperforming products, including TaB, on ice. “It was 2020,” committee vice president Jenny Boyter said. “It was like, Can enough bad things happen?”
TaB debuted as Coca-Cola’s first diet drink in 1963, featuring the artificial sweeteners cyclamate and saccharin. Despite concerns over side effects—the FDA ultimately banned cyclamate, which was linked to bladder cancer—TaB became the top-selling diet drink in the ’70s and ’80s, marketed to “beautiful people” watching their weight. Early ads encouraged women to “stay in his mind . . . be a Mindsticker.” But it wasn’t cancer scares or sexist advertising that killed TaB; it was Diet Coke, which debuted in 1982. By 2011, Coca-Cola was producing just 3 million cases of TaB to Diet Coke’s 885 million. Nine years later, when Coca-Cola announced it would can the soda for good, Boyter found her last couple cases at the Buford Highway Farmers Market.
“On the Facebook groups, people post all the time, This is my last TaB. It’s tragic,” said Boyter, who is trying to stretch her reserve until her birthday, November 21. “I know it sounds so whatever. The world is dissolving around us, and you’re worried about TaB? But it’s a comfort.”
On a weekly SaveTabSoda Zoom call in September, committee members tried to describe TaB’s taste: It’s like Diet Dr. Pepper but not as sweet. The aftertaste suggests saccharin (think Sweet’N Low) rather than aspartame (Equal). To Boyter, TaB is a little spicy; to others, citrusy. “It has its own terroir,” said committee secretary Trish Priest. “If it was a wine, you’d say its flavor profile is very strong,” Boyter said. “It’s definitely not a boring pinot.” Most importantly, it’s fizzy. Committee members discussed how best to capitalize on TaB’s 60th birthday next year—for example, by hiring an airplane to fly over downtown Atlanta with a banner.
TaBaholics take heart in the fact that victory would not be unprecedented: Planters’ Cheez Balls, the McDonald’s McRib, and Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza have all come back. In between calling campaigns and emails, Boyter once hand-delivered a TaB-themed Valentine’s basket to corporate headquarters. She and her husband also made a TaB “through the decades” commercial and sent it to Coca-Cola, which says it has no plans to bring the soda back. Company reps once sent her a few collectible glasses, though. “Thanks,” Boyter remembers thinking. “But I don’t have anything to put in them.”
This article appears in our November 2022 issue.