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Is Pepsi really better than Coke?

Once again the Penzo family conducts a blind taste test, comparing top brands and less expensive products. The results may surprise you.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 20, 2012 12:00PM

This post comes from Len Penzo at partner blog Len Penzo dot Com.


Len Penzo dot Com on MSN MoneyPeople have been enjoying cola-flavored soft drinks ever since 1886, when the first glasses of Coca-Cola were served up for 5 cents each (about $1.10 in today's dollars) at an Atlanta pharmacy.


Image: Grocery shopping (© Randy Faris/Corbis)Today, soft drinks are a key part of a beverage industry worth billions of dollars, so it should be no surprise that when it comes to the highly competitive soft drink wars, the century-long crusade for cola lovers being waged by Coke and Pepsi shows no sign of abating.


In 1975, Pepsi introduced a blind taste test known as the "Pepsi Challenge." Held in malls and shopping centers across America, it tried -- unsuccessfully -- to settle the "Coke vs. Pepsi" debate once and for all.


Pepsi claims the challenge proved that more Americans prefer Pepsi. Maybe so. But when it comes to bragging rights for America's top-selling soft drink, Pepsi has played the perennial bridesmaid to Coke ever since Pepsi made its debut at the turn of the 20th century.

And Pepsi's pride took another hit in 2011 when sales of Diet Coke surpassed those of Pepsi, making it the second most popular soft drink in the U.S. 


Is Coke really that much better than Pepsi? I think so. Arguably, the biggest difference between the two soft drinks is that Pepsi is sweeter, while Coke has a bit more carbonation -- and I have a bias toward that refreshing fizz.


Today, my preference for Coke is so strong that I'll often change my drink order to root beer or lemonade at establishments that carry Pepsi.


For the record, I haven't always been a Coke drinker. As a kid, my family drank only Pepsi. In fact, I didn't become a loyal Coke drinker until I finally left the nest.


Anyway, with that in mind, I decided to find out which cola my family would ultimately choose in a modified version of my own Pepsi Challenge. (Post continues below video.)

How the test was conducted

As with my ketchup blind taste test, I recruited a bunch of family members as an expert panel. This time there were 10 eager volunteers (plus the dog, of course).


With the panel in place, I prepared individual cola samples in separate paper cups. To ensure the taste test was a blind comparison, the samples were marked "A" through "D."


The experts were asked to rank each cola solely for taste, from best to worst, with four points for the top performer and one point for the worst. The panel members were also free to make comments about each sample. When comparing products, panelists who could not discern a clear taste advantage between two or more brands were allowed to give identical rankings.


Introducing the cola competitors

I ran down to my local Albertsons supermarket and bought all four cola brands they were offering for sale: Pepsi, Coke, Royal Crown, and Chill, which is a bargain brand marketed by Shoppers Value.


Here, in reverse order, is a summary of the cola taste test results, based upon the inputs of my expert panel:


4. Coca-Cola

Price (2 liters): $1.79.
Panel scoring: 17 points.
Average score (4-point scale): 1.6.
Human judges who deemed it the best: 0.


OMG! Coca-Cola inventor Dr. John Pemberton must be rolling over in his grave. Not only did the top-selling U.S. soft drink -- not to mention my personal favorite -- finish in last place, it was thoroughly trounced by the competition. How bad was it? Not a single panelist selected Coke as the favorite cola, and six of the 10 human judges rated it dead last. A seventh ranked it second from the bottom. Flavor was the predominant complaint. The Honeybee gave the Coke demerits for being "too watery," while Dad said it was "lacking in flavor." On the positive side, Mark liked Coke's "fizz factor."


3. RC Cola

Price (2 liters): $1.29.
Panel scoring: 25 points.
Average score (4-point scale): 2.4.
Human judges who deemed it the best: 2.


Royal Crown Cola has been around in its present incarnation since 1934. Today, it is distributed by Dr Pepper/Snapple Group. Although not as popular as Coke or Pepsi in terms of sales, RC Cola received the blue ribbon from two panelists, and three other judges ranked it second best. Chris thought it was the "best tasting by far," and Aunt Doris gave it her highest mark because it was "simply perfect." On the other hand, Matthew said Royal Crown tasted "flat," and both Nina and my mom thought RC was "too sweet."


2. Chill

Price (2 liters): $1.
Panel scoring: 27 points.
Average score (4-point scale): 2.5.
Human judges who deemed it the best: 3.


The bargain brand performed well, earning three blue ribbons from the panel. Only one panelist, Mark, thought the Chill cola was the worst of the bunch. He said it was "way too syrupy." It's interesting to note that my Mom and Dad both picked Chill as their favorite cola and remarked on their evaluation sheets that they thought it was probably Pepsi.


1. Pepsi Cola

Price (2 liters): $1.79.
Panel scoring: 31 points.
Average score (4-point scale): 2.9.
Human judges who deemed it the best: 5.


As far as my expert panel was concerned, Pepsi is clearly the top pop. It received the blue ribbon from five of the judges, and two others thought it was second best. My dad was the only one to rank it last ("too flat"), but he was in the minority. Kevin wryly noted that the only thing that could have made the Pepsi better was a splash of rum.


Cola blind taste test results

So is Pepsi really better than Coke?

While Coke has always been America's top-selling soft drink, Pepsi has steadfastly maintained that, in head-to-head competition, more people prefer the taste of its product in blind taste tests. And even though my taste test experiment included additional competitors, it still managed to back up Pepsi's claims.

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So while the results of my little cola taste test experiment will have most Pepsi fans screaming "I told you so," in the end, it's just another skirmish in a long battle that will most likely do absolutely nothing to convince Coke drinkers that Pepsi should rightfully be declared the cola world's "King of the Hill."


I know I'mnot impressed. As far as I'm concerned, Coke will always be No. 1 in my book.


More from Len Penzo dot Com and MSN Money:

Aug 20, 2012 8:45AM
What is happening to our reporting these days.  This "writer" even stated that his family always drank Pepsi, I think its a no brainer that they would choose Pepsi.  

For the test to be really unbiased and accurate, you need to ask people that do not drink soft drinks or ask people that say they cannot tell a difference between the two.  I know I can always tell the difference between them so it wouldn't be a fair test if i was included in it.

It's all in the marketing, some malls and even states (think rest stops along the NJ turnpike) predominately sell Pepsi in their establishments so those consumers have a preferred taste for Pepsi.  And those are the locations that Pepsi goes to for their "taste tests"- where it sells their product the most.  None of it is unbiased, its all marketing. One would hope that this "writer" would check into his story more and determine those factors as well as picking unbiased candidates.  

Apr 21, 2012 10:11PM
I like Pepsi  best and will change my order to another soft drink when in an establishment that serves coke, I am not surprised that Pepsi won against all comers in your taste test.
Nov 1, 2012 3:11AM
Pepsi is the best! It's sweeter and has less calories making it healthier it has been here longer than coke!! PEPSI ALL THE WAAAAAAAAAAAY!! :D
Apr 21, 2012 10:38PM
I cant tell the difference between them. 
Apr 20, 2012 7:55PM
Give me good home-brewed root beer over all of these (A&W or Thomas Kemper are among the best commercial root beers).  Otherwise, I'd take Pepsi (Diet).  There must be something in the Coke that creates addiction (I know it has not contained cocaine for many many years).  I see adults walking around with liter bottles of Coke in hand quite often.  I've never seen any with RC or Pepsi.
Oct 23, 2012 11:58PM
I LOVE coke a cola' a wide range of data shows that 40-43% of the U.S market preferred cola while Pepsi got 30%. Pepsi has a sweet taste =__= if  i wanted sweet i'd get like sweet tea or something! Coke is better & Pepsi is a wanna be coke, for ex: there are ipods & then the wanna be one called mp3 players! yup that's how i see it. 
Apr 22, 2012 8:47PM
There is no way that Pepsi is  better than Coke.  Hands down, Coke is better amd always will be.  Pepsi is too sweet and Coke has that better taste.  Not changing ever.........imagine ordering a Crown and Pepsi???? Not!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Apr 22, 2012 9:13AM
Pepsi Sucks...But I own $4000.00 of their Stock and it Pays good
Apr 20, 2012 5:15PM
Everybody is after the caffeine, the taste is actually secondary.
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