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Coca-Cola's sweet deal: $1 million prize to replace sugar

By Allen Cone
Coca-Cola's sweet deal: $1 million prize to replace sugar
Coca-Cola is offering a $1 million prize for someone to come up with "a natural, safe, reduced, low- or no-calorie compound that creates the taste sensation of sugar when used in beverages and foods. Photo by Billie Jean Shaw/UPI

Sept. 5 (UPI) -- Coca-Cola won't sugar coat it.

The No. 1 seller of soft drinks is offering a $1 million prize for someone to come up an alternative to sugar.

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In a contest, Coke is searching for "a natural, safe, reduced, low- or no-calorie compound that creates the taste sensation of sugar when used in beverages and foods," according to the website.

The compound cannot contain, or be derived from, Stevia, Monk Fruit or any internationally protected species or substances.

RELATED Coca-Cola ditches Coke Zero for reformulated product

"We're always searching for newer, better ingredients, and we know that amazing ideas can come from anywhere," said Robert Long, Coca-Cola SVP and Chief Innovation Officer, in a statement.

The beverage giant will award one winner $1 million on Oct. 3, 2018.

"We are not asking participants to taste or consume novel substances or substances that have a toxicity that is unknown," the company said in a release. "In fact, the Coca-Cola Company is expressly advising participants not to taste or consume any substances not approved for human consumption. Rather, The Coca-Cola Company is seeking a molecule/compound that has scientific data to support its safety for human consumption over a prolonged period."

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Guidelines and how to apply can be found on its website.

Coca-Cola plans to assemble a "panel of qualified judges, determined in its sole discretion and this judging panel will rank qualified submissions according to the criteria described below."

Up to 10 semifinalists will be announced on Feb. 21. Then Coca-Cola will contact the top-ranked semifinalists "requesting appropriate paperwork regarding shipping, material safety data, and customs information." Also, a sample of at least 6 grams of the molecule/compound needs to be provided.

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On April 11, up to three finalists will be announced. Coca-Cola then plans to conduct more extensive tests the samples for up to six months and additional information and sample material may be sought.

In 1963, Coca-Cola offered Tab, a diet cola sweetened with saccharin. Since then, chemists have developed other compounds that tasted sweet, including Diet Coke. For some, the artificial sweeter taste is bitter.

In July, Coca-Cola announced plans to replace Coca-Cola Zero with Coca-Cola Zero Sugar in August. Like its predecessor, it has no calories or sugar, but the company said it has been reformulated to taste more like its flagship product, traditional Coca-Cola.

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"Our love of sugar goes way back," Breslin said. "It pre-dates our species -- to when we last shared a common ancestor with chimps and apes. Yes, we have an ancient love of sugar."

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But with obesity and Type 2 diabetes, people are looking for alternatives to sugar.

"Sugar is now the No. 1 item that consumers want to avoid in their diets," Darren Seifer, a food and beverage industry analyst with the NPD Group, told NPR. The message to consume less is coming from health experts around the globe.

The company is also offering additional $100,000 in second contest. The "Sweet Story Challenge" asks for anecdotes on tried-and-true ways your community, culture or family has naturally sweetened food and drinks.

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