We tested Coke and Pepsi against every cola we could find – and it was closer than you think

 ·30 Jun 2023

When it comes to the battle of the colas, two brands usually spring to mind – Coca-Cola and Pepsi. And even when those names pop up, most people have already decided on a winner in their heads.

However, options in South Africa don’t necessarily have to come down to Coke or Pepsi – local retailers have their own brands in the mix.

One of the brands that has gained a lot of prominence – among middle-class shoppers at least – is Woolworths’ Cool brand. Cool stands out for offering unique flavour variants of colas, including vanilla and cherry cola.

While these flavours exist in the Coca-Cola stable, they aren’t widely available in South Africa outside of imports (Vanilla Coke used to be sold widely in SA, but sadly, this is no longer the case), and often come at a much higher price point.

Thus Woolies has become one of the only places to easily get your hands on these drinks.

But when it comes to straight-up cola, Woolies is not standing out above the brands, and actually competes with quite a large number of colas on the market, including Coke and Pepsi and their many variants.

Following our tried and trusted methods, BusinessTech decided to do a blind taste test of every cola we could find to answer the age-old question: Coke or Pepsi? Or perhaps something else?

The test was simple: we found a willing group of testers and gave them a taste of 15 cola drinks without them being able to see any branding.

The testers scored each drink out of ten, and gave written commentary on the flavour profile, aftertaste, level of sweetness and anything else that stood out about its.

Once all scores were in, they were added up, averaged and ranked – with the winning brand revealed to all at the end.

As a bonus, the testers were also asked to identify which drink they thought was the original Coca-Cola – which proved to be trickier than many of them thought.

These were the results:

[Note: Taste is subjective, and as the scores show, opinions on colas can differ greatly. All colas were procured from local retailers. The rankings are not exhaustive or comprehensive, as other brands also make cola variants. This list is just a bit of fun; please don’t email us complaining that your favourite drink was ranked low.]

RankDrinkScore /10
1Coca-Cola Original6.8
2Coke Light6.4
3Checkers Cola No Caffeine6.1
3Pepsi Light6.1
5Coke No Sugar5.9
5Pepsi Max5.9
5Woolworths Cool Cola5.9
8Coke No Sugar No Caffeine5.8
10PnP Cola5.0
10Checkers Cola5.0
12Checkers Diet Cola4.7
13Zip Zero Sugar4.5
14Zip Cola3.9
15PnP Cola Sugar Free3.2

The Best: Coca-Cola Orginal

While it may come as no surprise to some that the original Coke came out on top, it was surprising how close the results ended up being.

What was notable in the blind score commentary was how “samey” the original Coke seemed when tasted close to other, similar drinks.

Overall the flavour was described as “refreshing” and “milder than the rest”, with a large line being that the drink was “pretty decent”.

Most of the other colas were described as being “overly sweet” with an “intense” flavour or aftertaste.

However, for some, the Coke flavour was lost among the many other “Coke copy-cat” drinks.

This wasn’t just because of how closely the drinks were tested together. Tasters who tested the drinks in spaced-out intervals had the same issue as those who tested the drinks one after another.

Still, though, one-third of the taste testers were able to identify Coke straight out – and at least half were able to place it in the Coke stable (often confusing it for Coke Light).

Thus, Coke’s staying power in taste is unmatched, with Coke Light ranking second in the taste test, and Coke No Sugar tying for fifth.

While Coke ranked tops in the blind test, not everyone was a fan, thanks to the “syrupy” texture and “thick” mouth feel.

  • Top score: [9/10] “This is definitely Coke. Good old Coca-Cola. 10000%”
  • Lowest score: [2/10] “Coats your mouth in a layer of misery.”

The Worst: PnP Cola Sugar Free

Our testers were surprised to find out that South Africa’s retailers even had their own-branded colas – let alone sugar-free variants.

While PnP’s standard Cola came out as decidedly average (alongside Checkers’ offering), the zero-sugar offering did not fare well.

One tester described the look of the drink as “soy sauce”, while the flavour profile was “tangy” and “acidic”.

There was a general trend of sugar-free variants scoring lower than the originals – however, there were a few exceptions to this. Pepsi Light score higher than original Pepsi, and Zip Zero Sugar ranked higher than Zip original.

PnP’s sugar-free offering was a huge miss for everyone, though, with the kindest commentary saying it is perhaps a bit too sweet.

At worst, one of the tasters simply stated, “No.”

  • Top score: [5/10] “What is this?”
  • Lowest score: [1/10] “It’s like they tried to make cough syrup taste better – and failed.”

Read: We tested PRIME against 20 sports and energy drinks – and the winner was clear

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