25 October 2007

In Saccharin We Trust

I don't like TaB because its zany or kitsch or hard to find. I like TaB because I grew up on TaB. TaB is the O.G. diet cola. Nothing else tastes like TaB. It is totally unique. Lab rat cancer or not, I don't give a fuck. Life is short; gimme my TaB.

I'll always remember those tightly woven strawberry stripes and that syrupy goodness. Growing up was rough. I never hid my allegiance to TaB; I was never ashamed even in the face of immortal adversity and ridicule, I held my ground.

Simply the sight of a 2-liter bottle of TaB reminds me of my childhood, sincerely.

These days everything is diet. I think they have diet water, even. Diet hysteria has enveloped America for some time now but back then, in the frontier days of sugar-free when people were just starting to learn what a calorie was, there was Diet-Rite Cola and there was TaB and that's it.

In fact, Diet Rite was initially sold solely as a diet aid, not as a mass-market product. Diet Rite's popularity with the general public took its parent company, Royal Crown Cola, by surprise.

Sensing a market niche, Coca-Cola decided to develop its own diet cola. However, as the company had a long-standing policy of using the Coca-Cola name only on its flagship product, it developed the TaB brand instead. TaB was produced by Coca-Cola's Fanta division. And don't get started on Fanta. European Fanta is the best shit ever. American Fanta pales in comparison.

At long last, TaB was produced by Coca-Cola in 1963. It has been reformulated several times because every goddamn thing they sweeten it with the FDA finds dangerous and deadly.

When TaB first hit the shelves in '63 it was sweetened with something called cyclamate. Cyclamate was an artificial sweetener that was discovered in 1937 at the University of Illinois by a graduate student named Michael Sveda. Splenda? Sveda.

Growing up, TaB poured like the canals in Venice at our house

Apparently Coca-Cola's marketing research department employed its circa 1963 IBM 1401 computer to generate a list of over 250,000 four-letter words with one vowel, adding names suggested by the company's own staff.

The list was stripped of any words deemed unpronounceable or too similar to existing trademarks. From a final list of about twenty names, "TABB" was chosen, influenced by the possible play on words, and shortened to "TAB" during development, and designer Sid Dickens gave the name its familiar capitalization pattern ("TaB") in the logo he designed.

At the height of its popularity, the TaB name was briefly extended to other diet soft drinks, including TaB Lemon-Lime and TaB Orange.

In 1993, Coca-Cola released Tab Clear in the US and UK, a curious move in the case of the latter as the original TaB was sold in the UK in the 1970's but was not a success. It was a clear cola that didn't taste very much like cola. It was withdrawn after less than a year, despite acquiring a number of devotees.

TaB has of late become something of a cult beverage, with heavily dedicated drinkers. This is one of the few reasons TaB is still produced; its share of the national soft drink market is minuscule. Typically, TaB is now only found in supermarkets and convenience stores in 12-ounce cans, by 12-pack or 6-pack. It is also available in some places in two-liter bottles.

In early 2006 TaB Energy appeared at my 7-11. Though sharing the brand name, TaB Energy does not taste like TaB. The drink is currently being marketed towards women. And men who like to keep tabs on said women.

I LoveTaB.com is the most comprehensive fan site and community. Approach with caution.

Stumbled upon this page of TaB FAQ's as well.

TaB family potrait, circa 2006

For some odd reason TaB is as popular as ever in South Africa. It pours from kitchen and bathroom faucets there like reservoir water.

I remember landing in Johannesburg and freaking out because there were TaB machines, literally, everywhere I turned. Naturally, the kids we were with found it hysterical that I was, well, so hysterical over the sight of a few TaB machines; I explained to them the legend of TaB in America and soon they understood.

From that day on, for the rest of my trip through South Africa, I drank at least two or three TaBs a day and anytime our friends would run out to a supermarket, they'd bring me back a proud 2-liter of South African TaB. It was fucking delicious. I was in heaven.

Viva La TaB!

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