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Can you find the soda company's next no-calorie sweetener?

August 17, 2017

Soda sales have been struggling and sweeteners are at the heart of the issue: For nearly a generation now, sugar has cemented itself as public health enemy number one; meanwhile, the scientific evidence remains unclear whether no-calorie and low-calorie sugar substitutes like aspartame, sucralose and stevia are any healthier, both in curbing weight gain and other alleged negative effects. A kind of “holy grail” of healthier sugar replacements would likely be a lucrative find, so it’s probably unsurprising that Coca-Cola has offered up a lottery winner-like $1 million prize for anyone who can find the next great sweetener.

Earlier this month, the beverage giant announcedThe Coca-Cola Company Sweetener Challenge” presenting an open call to researchers and scientists to seek “a natural, safe, low/reduced-calorie compound that tastes like sugar when used in beverages and foods.” The challenge, which has been posted on the problem-solving crowdsourcing platform HeroX, will award one grand prize winner $1 million—culled from as many as 10 semi-finalists (depending on how many submissions actually fit all of Coca-Cola’s guidelines). “While a tremendous amount of research has gone into the discovery and development of natural low- and no-calorie compounds, we still think there are novel compounds to be discovered and developed!” the challenge overview states. “We think that somewhere in the world, there is an individual or team of people who can solve our challenge!”

Along similar lines, Coca-Cola has also offered up a second, somewhat less scientific crowdsourcing campaign—the “Sweet Story Challenge”—which “invites people around the world to submit written anecdotes and videos about their favorite, tried-and-true methods of naturally sweetening foods or beverages in their cultures, communities or families.” Those able to offer up unique natural methods for sweetening foods can compete for a separate, but equally impressive $100,000 prize.

“We’re always searching for newer, better ingredients, and we know that amazing ideas can come from anywhere,” said Robert Long, SVP and chief innovation officer at Coca-Cola. “These two challenges are very much rooted in our desire to make the drinks our consumers want to drink, and in our willingness to look beyond the walls of our company for breakthrough sugar alternatives that help us deliver the great taste people love but with less sugar and fewer calories.”

For a few years now, Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign has grabbed people’s attention by putting random names on Coke bottles. Hey, maybe one of those random people can also solve the company’s sweetener conundrum as well?