Prepared Foods February 21, 2005 enewsletter

Men also get fat. As a result, more and more of them trying to shed those extra pounds by drinking a bit like ... women.

Diet soft drinks, long geared toward a female audience, have steadily grown in popularity among men. Today, many 20-something men do not even think of the girly image many older guys associate with beverages like Diet Coke.

Big soft drink companies are going after men, partly by trying to make sure diet drinks do not seem as female-oriented as they once did. Some products avoid the word "diet" at all.

"We want to make diets cool for men," said Lauren Hobart, director of marketing for diet colas for Pepsi-Cola North America.

How are they doing it? Pepsi is aiming for a broad audience with its Diet Pepsi ads, including a new one featuring hip-hop mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. Next up is a rehab of the male-targeted Pepsi One.

Coke is embracing men subtly, with flavors like Diet Coke with Lime and ads that shed the overtly female overtones of years past.

"The general perception is that these brands are predominantly female," said Dan Dillon Jr., vice president in charge of diet brands for Coca-Cola North America. "It's not as dramatic as people would think."

Indeed, 46% of Diet Coke drinkers are male, according to Coke's own statistics.

A study by the Atlanta-based Calorie Control Council, a group that represents makers of low-calorie and reduced-fat food and beverages, found that 39% of men were regular buyers of diet drinks in 1994. By 2004, the number had surged to 53%.

Some people --- men and women --- switch back and forth between regular and diet drinks. Last year, Pepsi said its research uncovered about 60 million of these dual users.

Pepsi would be happy to have them drink more Diet Pepsi. However, the company is especially interested in getting men to try a product called Pepsi One.

Pepsi introduced Pepsi One in 1998, targeting men in their 20s. Sales peaked at 83.7 million cases in 1999 before falling steeply.

"It was launched a little bit before its time," Pepsi's Hobart said. Now, Pepsi One is being reformulated with the sweetener sucralose and will be marketed to men as tasting more like regular Pepsi.

Even Pepsi One packaging will tilt masculine, with a black-and-gray label. Diet Pepsi is light blue.

Coke has a sucralose-sweetened version of Diet Coke on the way, too. Dillon said Coke's research shows little difference between men and women in their attitudes toward a sucralose-sweetened drink, so marketing for the brand is likely to be gender-neutral.

Growing obesity rates are a factor in the trend, of course. However, Dillon thinks many young men are open to diet drinks simply because they grew up in homes where the products were common.

"If you were drinking it when you were 10, you didn't have that stigma," Dillon said.

Pepsi One ads aside, do not expect to see many diet soft drink ads turn too far to the male side. Men might be drinking more diets, but the core audience is still female.

"We need to be talking to women," Pepsi's Hobart said, "as well as men."