| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc (DPS.N) and All Sport Inc plan to launch a natural, zero-calorie sports drink next month, Dr Pepper's CEO said.
The new drink, All Sport Naturally Zero, will be sweetened with rebiana, a zero-calorie sweetener made from the South American shrub stevia. Twenty-ounce bottles will be on store shelves in April 2009 in three flavors: dragonfruit, strawberry star fruit and mandarin orange.
Dr Pepper Snapple, the third-biggest soft-drink maker in the U.S., holds an equity stake in All Sport Inc's parent company and is the brand's primary distributor. The company also collaborated with All Sport on the product's research and development.
The new All Sport follows similar moves from larger rivals Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) and PepsiCo Inc (PEP.N), which are introducing versions of drinks including vitaminwater and Sobe Life drinks with similar sweeteners.
Larry Young, Dr Pepper's chief executive, said he thinks the potential for rebiana is large in the beverage industry, where consumers sometimes look for low calorie options but shun artificial sweeteners like Equal, Sweet'N Low or Splenda.
"I think there's potential out there," Young said in an interview on Monday, but noted that the product is still very new and that the industry still questions the reliability of its supply.
"I think one of the things that's hurt it, maybe, is these economic times right now. It's a little more expensive," Young said, of products sweetened with rebiana.
Dr Pepper Snapple has not announced the use of rebiana in any of its own brands, which include Dr Pepper, Canada Dry, A&W, 7UP, Crush and Hawaiian Punch. But Young said the company has been working on it for "quite some time" and could sell rebiana-sweetened versions of some drinks down the road.
"In our organization taste is king," said Young. "We'll never sacrifice any taste to have some type of innovative sweetener. We want them to be equivalent or greater, and in my book if they're not greater, I don't even mess with them."
"We're constantly looking at it," Young said. "If we find the right combination we'll be using it."
(Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Bernard Orr)