Crystal Pepsi

Crystal Pepsi is one of the most famous Pepsi products, but not because of its success. It was one of the stranger things that Pepsi made and marketed in the 1990s and the very fact that Pepsi thought that making a clear version of its classic dark cola style product was a bit boggling, even at the time. Crystal Pepsi has carved its own place out of the cultural landscape of the soda world during this period but it did not make itself memorable for the reasons that Pepsi had hoped.

This is one of the strange things that came out of the 90s snack and junk food reality and people sometimes sell this clear version of Pepsi on eBay for rather ridiculous amounts of money. There are many things to learn about when considering the history and origins of this unique version of Pepsi products and you will find that there is probably a lot that you didn’t know about this soft drink.

Crystal Pepsi

History of Crystal Pepsi

This soft drink was first marketed in Europe in the 19990s. It came to the US and Canada in 1992 and 1994 respectively and then enjoyed brief re-release periods throughout the middle of the 2010s. The original goal of this product was thought to be a means to cash in on the incorrect association that the public was making at the time with clear sodas being diet sodas. The product had to compete with many light-colored or clear sodas and also had to compete with Coca-Cola products that were similar in nature.

The Clear Craze in the 90s equated clear sodas with purity from unhealthy components. People incorrectly associated clear sodas with being healthy and there was an odd link during this time between food and drink items that were clear or nearly colorless and all the supposedly “pure” soaps and other cleaning products that were clear or colorless. This was an odd link in the public’s mind, but it spurred the creation of many “clear” soda products to keep pace with other markets obsessed with purity and cleanliness.

The product was developed with help from a food scientist named Surinder Kumar. He was the genius behind Nacho Cheese Doritos and it was felt that he would know how to hit the right balance of sweet and fizzy goodness without losing the traditional taste of a regular Pepsi product. Kumar expressed worry about this design because cola-style drinks are dark to protect them from spoiling. He was worried that the product would not hold up to being shelved for weeks at a time. Kumar was also hamstrung by being unable to get access to the full Pepsi recipe.

When PepsiCo released Crystal Pepsi to test markets in a few key US locations, namely Denver, Sacramento, Dallas, Providence and Grand Rapids, they saw a positive response to it. They then began to sell it nationwide in December of that year. Crystal Pepsi did capture a full point of US soda sales during its first season which amounted to around $474 million. Coca-Cola saw this success and launched Tab the next year.

Tab was based on an older product that had been secretly made as a one-off for Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Soviet Union to hide this American soda product under the guise of being vodka. It was called “white coke” at the time. This was a strange step for Coca-Cola to take as well, but the Clear Craze carried a lot of weight at the time. Later, Coca-Cola admitted that they made Tab in order to kill Crystal Pepsi and Tab at the same time. Many who worked for Coca-Cola at the time credit the demise of Crystal Pepsi to their efforts to develop and market Tab.

What is the Clear Craze?

This was a marketing fad and popular opinion movement that connected clear or items with very little color with being “light”, “healthy”, or good for you. This led to a whole list of clear items like clear sodas and clear gels and clear cleaning products that were supposedly better for your health and full of natural ingredients. This was almost always false advertising, and the movement was short-lived as a result.

Crystal Pepsi Ingredients

  • Carbonated water
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Phosphoric Acid
  • Citric Acid
  • Sodium Benzoate
  • Sodium Citrate
  • Caffeine
  • Gum Arabic
  • Natural Flavor

What Does Crystal Pepsi Taste Like?

Many people reported that Crystal Pepsi was a lot like all the other clear drinks that are on the market. You would be enjoying a sweet and fizzy soda without the strong taste that came with the darker soda colors. This might have been wishful thinking on the part of those who drank it, or maybe it really was more like 7-Up than many people realize.

This being said, the product has not aged well due to the problems that Kumar warned about. Many people who had YouTube channels that revolve around trying odd foods and other strange older items have reported that it tasted quite bad when they cracked open an old bottle of Crystal Pepsi and some of them said they got sick later.

To be fair to the product, it was never meant to be kept on shelves for twenty plus years and then consumed, but there is some evidence that the flavor was an issue even when the product had been stored for a standard amount of time on the shelves of grocery stores and other locations that were selling it. It was not just the death of the Clear Craze that led to the demise of this once highly popular soda. The taste was likely another part of the problem.

Yum! Brands David C. Novak said that he wished that they had taken more time in development to be sure that the product would taste good. They were so concerned about getting it out to market that they created it and worried about ads and slogans, but not about the actual taste of the longevity of the product when it has been stored. This stumble was not recoverable according to him and he says that he wishes that they had handled this “great idea” with more care.

Re-Releases of Crystal Pepsi

This drink had such a lasting following that it was revived more than once. It first came back after an extensive online campaign in 2015 was launched asking for it to be made again. Part of the interest in the product was due to the L.A. beast making a viral video of himself drinking a bottle he bought on eBay that was from the 90s. In response, Pepsi released 13,000 six-packs of the beverage for those that competed to win it via a sweepstakes game.

In 2016, the drink was launched a second time and was sold in Canada and then the US. There was a preservative included in the drink this time to prevent issues with it becoming flat and terrible to drink. Pepsi then made a public announcement that the drink would return again in 2017. This revival was slated to be complete with Crystal Pepsi parties at baseball stadiums and was linked to performances by Busta Rhymes and Salt-n-Pepa.

In 2018, it was announced that this was the “last chance” to buy the drink. This release was exclusive to the US. There was also a re-release in Canadian stores in 2019 for a short time.

Despite all the rumors that these last two releases were the final time, there was a February tease that was done by the Pepsi company that said that there would be another release of the drink on Valentine’s Day of that year.

Crystal Pepsi was also sold in Mexico as Pepsi Clear for a limited time in 2005. In 2008, PepsiCo did file for trademarks on the product under the names, “Pepsi Clear” and “Diet Pepsi Clear”.

Pictures of Crystal Pepsi

Advertising Campaigns

Crystal Pepsi had its own Super Bowl commercial which included Van Halen and it was advertised on the first computer-made bus wrap. The expense of these ad campaigns did not save the product and all of this work was for nothing when sales fell off the second year after its release.

There were additional shorter ads that ran on TV with Van Halen and some of them parodied a Saturday Night Light bit that had been called, “Crystal Gravy”. There were all kinds of other advertising efforts and branding products that were developed and the company paid for the rights to use the Van Halen song, “Right Now” for ads.

The product was marketed as “pure” and “natural” and less acidic than regular Pepsi. People who worked on the project said that they likely mishandled the entire launch and advertising efforts because they knew that the soda should have been a hit instead of a blunder.

Commercials for Crystal Pepsi

The 1-minute version of the Van Halen ad:

1992 Commercial:

The Van Halen Commercial:

Crystal Pepsi returns:

The famous Crystal Gravy ad from SNL:

Leave a Comment