‘The end of an era, the death of a dream’: Coca-Cola is killing cult-classic soda Tab, sending waves of shock and nostalgia across America

TAB
Coca-Cola is killing Tab.
  • Coca-Cola will stop making Tab at the end of 2020, the beverage giant announced on Friday. 
  • The news sent off a wave of nostalgia and shock among Tab lovers, from children of the '70s with fond memories of the drink to superfans desperate to hunt down the beverage. 
  • "It's the end of an era, the death of a dream!" author Molly Jong-Fast told Business Insider. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Tab lovers' long battle to keep their fridges filled with the diet soda has come to an end.

On Friday, Coca-Cola announced it was retiring Tab, along with other "underperforming" drinks such as Odwalla and Diet Coke Feisty Cherry.

Tab is set to officially retire on December 31, 2020, after more than five decades, according to Coca-Cola. The decision is part of Coca-Cola's strategy to kill off "zombie" brands in an effort to focus on fewer brands with stronger sales. 

Read more: Zico, Coke's top coconut water brand, is the latest to be axed as food and beverage companies cut underperforming products during the pandemic

The announcement set off a wave of nostalgia and distress among Tab lovers. 

"It's the end of an era, the death of a dream!" author Molly Jong-Fast told Business Insider. 

Jong-Fast said she hasn't tasted Tab in a long time. However, as someone born in 1978, the news immediately triggered her nostalgia — even though she recalled the drink as tasting like "very very sweet and slightly flat paint thinner," while noting she has no experience consuming paint thinner.

Jong-Fast is not the only person feeling nostalgic about the loss of Tab. Timothy Dooner, 41, told Business Insider that discussion of the drink conjures up memories of childhood cookouts. 

"It's a sad day for us Tab drinkers," Dooner, the host of a FreightWaves podcast that covers supply chain and trucking news.

Dooner admits that, today, he rarely drinks Tab — which he described as carbonated Sweet and Low with added caramel coloring. Yet, he said he remains drawn to the drink. 

"I come across it so rarely. So, when I do happen to see it out in the wild … I will buy a six pack, at least once a year," Dooner said. 

Others refuse to leave Tab purchases up to chance.

Natalie Kueneman has spent decades on the hunt for Tab. Kueneman is in a unique position to assist others in their pursuit of the diet soda, as the founder of the website ILoveTab.com, which she started in 1994. On Friday morning, she said her inbox was flooded with emails from devastated Tab lovers. 

"People feel differently about Tab than they do about other drinks — very devoted," Kueneman told Business Insider. 

Tab obsessives have been struggling to get their hands on the soda for years 

TAB_1976
Tab remains a '70s icon.

Kueneman is among the Tab super-fans who exclusively drink the diet cola. Tab is sweetened with saccharin, which gives the drink its distinct and polarizing taste. Debunked fears that saccharin could cause cancer led to backlash against Tab in the '80 that the drink never fully overcame. 

"People are like, it tastes disgusting, it's pink, it's gross," Kueneman said. "If anyone ever tastes it and they don't want to put on a big show about how it's gross — they like it." 

Tab has been disappearing from grocery shelves for years, as various Coca-Cola bottlers have stopped producing the beverage. A bottler's decision usually sets off a wave of emails to ILoveTab.com from shoppers desperate to find the drink. (Kueneman has an arrangement with her local store to keep Tab in stock in a backroom, even if they don't put it on their shelves.)

While the availability of Tab had ebbed and flowed in recent years, it abruptly dried up in the coronavirus pandemic and aluminum shortage earlier this year. 

"You could still get it in March," Kueneman said. "Then, in the beginning of April, I started to get at some more messages [about shortages.] It's been nonstop since." 

tab
Tab, back in the 1970s.

Some Tab lovers believe that it might be time to let the drink go. Dooner said that he has been considering giving up soda. The loss of Tab might be the catalyst for him to take the plunge and cut out soft drinks all together. 

"Diet soda is so bad for you so maybe it's good," Jong-Fast said. 

Kueneman said she wasn't shocked by Coca-Cola's decision to kill Tab, especially since the company hasn't substantially marketed the drink in more than two decades. But, she isn't ready to give up the fight. The ILoveTab.com founder is planning to reach out to other Tab lovers and tell them to contact Coca-Cola, bottlers, and distributors.

Kueneman's personal Tab stockpile has now dwindled to a single can. She had been planning on drinking her final Tab on election night. Now, Kueneman isn't sure what she will do with her last can. 

"The only way to really save Tab would be to convert the next generation," Kueneman said. "I think Coke missed a huge opportunity to market Tab in a really fun way over the years. I don't know why they never did."

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