UPDATE 1-Dr Pepper says to sell drinks w/ natural sweetener

Thu Dec 18, 2008 11:50am EST

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* To announce launch of stevia-sweetened drinks shortly

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NEW YORK Dec 18 (Reuters) - Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc (DPS.N) said on Thursday it expects to announce the launch of low-calorie drinks made with a natural sweetener in the coming weeks, helping to send its shares up nearly 5 percent.

The move would follow similar introductions from larger rivals Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) and PepsiCo Inc (PEP.N), which both said a day earlier they received U.S. regulatory clearance for sweeteners derived from the stevia plant.

Coke and Pepsi plan to launch new soft drinks in the coming weeks.

"We are pleased with the Food & Drug Administration's decision to approve the use of stevia in the United States," said Jim Trebilcock, a Dr Pepper Snapple marketing executive, in an email. "This important decision clears the way for food and beverage manufacturers to develop and introduce an array of naturally sweetened lower calorie choices."

"We expect to announce the launch of our first stevia-sweetened products in the coming weeks," he continued.

The sweeteners, made from the leaves of a South American shrub, will provide natural alternatives to chemical sweeteners like Equal and Splenda.

Dr Pepper Snapple shares were up 76 cents at $16.80 on the New York Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Martinne Geller, editing by Dave Zimmerman)

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