Vintage Tab cola: Remember this popular sugar-free diet soda?

Vintage Tab diet cola ads

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Discover the fizz and fascination of Tab, the diet soda that became a cultural icon during the 1960s. Originally marketed to women as a way to “keep tabs” on (as in watch) their weight, Tab shaped the diet beverage industry, while also leaving left a lasting impression on pop culture.

Tab Diet Cola (available in cans and awesome glass bottles with a textured exterior) was one of the biggest names in the low- and no-calorie soda market back in the 1960s and 1970s, before Diet Coke hit the bigtime in the 1980s.

In October 2020, Coca-Cola announced that the pop was finally being discontinued… although many people didn’t realize it was even still being made.

Here, we look back to see how this distinctive pink-canned drink influenced societal norms, advertising strategies, and the taste preferences of a generation. Here’s a look at the buzz on the fizz back in its heyday!

Vintage Tab diet cola: Coke’s first play in the multi-million dollar diet soft drink market (1963)

By Al Smith, Auburn News (Kentucky) July 16, 1963

Russellville Coca-Cola bottler Joe Copple says it won’t be long before his company starts making Tab, Coca-Cola’s entry in the low-calorie cola market.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, the General Motors and Ford of the soft-drink industry, “couldn’t afford to stay out” of the low-cal cola field, which is expected to take seven percent of the soft-drink market, Newsweek magazine reports.

In New York, Pepsi-Cola’s “skinny cola” manager, said his firm’s Patio Diet Cola has “taken off like a rocket.”

Joe Copple’s commander-in-chief, J. Paul Austin, president of the Coca-Cola Co., says “the public has become intensely interested” in low-calorie sodas. Paced by Royal Crown’s Diet Rite Cola, the total sales of cola-flavored low-cals are running at a rate of 100 million cases annually, worth about $200 million retail.

RC, the nation’s fourth-largest soft-drink maker, first got into the act in Chicago 18 months ago, and its success brought Coca-Cola and Pepsi running. Canada Dry is also in the field, and 7-Up, third-largest national soft-drink maker, has a low-calorie product almost ready for the market.

Mr. Copple’s outfit, incidentally, adopted the name “Tab” on the suggestion of a Coke staff member. This was after the company had asked an IBM computer for candidates, and got 325,000 suggestions — including “Flug.” “Gaag,” and “Burp” — and rejected them all, Newsweek said.

Low-cal soft drinks are reported to be almost the ultimate in non-food food; the artificially-sweetened new formulas contain just two calories in a 12-ounce bottle, as compared with 80 to 120 calories in regular pop.

MORE: See some vintage Shasta sodas, from chocolate cola to lemon-lime to strawberry pop

New Tab: A toast to a special celebration (1964)

A toast to a special celebration. And a toast to Tab. The difference in Tab is flavor. You see, anyone can take the calories out of a soft drink. But it took The Coca Cola Company to keep the flavor in. 

Vintage Tab diet cola on a tray - 1964

Vintage Tab diet cola: How can just 1 calorie taste so good? (1964)

Vintage Body by Tab cola ad

How can just 1 calorie taste so good? (1964)

The Coca-Cola Company kept the flavor in Tab.

Tab is brimming with full-bodied flavor. But has just one calorie in every six ounces. Tab is lively, satisfying, delightfully refreshing. Keep tab with Tab.

May 15, 1964 Tab soda

MORE: What’s the more popular term: soda or pop?

Tab – Robust flavor soda (1965)

At last, Tab – a 1-calorie soft drink with flavor: Robust flavor.

Tab - Robust flavor soda - 1965

The Now taste of Tab (1966)

Tab trimmed down its sweetness, so it’s a little bit dry. With 1 crazy calorie in every 6 ounces. Like everything now, a little bit crazy, but wow. The now taste of Tab. That’s what’s happening. To the nicest shapes around.

The Now taste of Tab soda from 1966

'I'd like to buy the world a Coke' TV commercial (1971)

It’s new. Now Tab tastes better than any diet cola (1968 )

A 6-pack carton of glass cola bottles

Now Tab tastes better than any diet cola - 1968

Tab: Stay in his mind… Be a Mindsticker

When you can’t be with him, be in his mind. Have a shape he can’t forget. Tab can help. It’s sugar-free and it tastes better than any other diet cola because the Coca Cola Company wouldn’t have it any other way. Enjoy Tab, and be a Mindsticker. 

Tab mindsticker cola drink

Vintage Tab soda - Mindsticker with the cola

50+ sexist vintage ads so bad, you almost won't believe they were real

Tab: 1 crazy calorie (1970)

Unsticky. Unstuffy. Uninhibited. The new taste of Tab. Not so sweet. With 1 crazy calorie in 6 ounces. It’s what’s helping so many people to keep slim and trim. Tab. That’s what happening. To the nicest shapes around.

Tab soda - 1 crazy calorie - 1960s vintage ad

New face. Beautiful taste. (1978)

And 20 cents off to try America’s favorite one-calorie soda in its bright new package.

Sugar-Free Tab from 1978

Body by Tab cola – soda (1982)

Vintage Body by Tab cola ad from 1982

Vintage Body by Tab cola (1982)

Vintage Body by Tab cola ad from 1982

Stylish '80s swimsuits: Shapely, slimming, sexy summer swimwear

Tab’s got sass (1982)

Get your sassy Tab sweats when you buy Tab! (Just send a check and a 1980s grocery store receipt!)

Vintage Body by Tab cola ad from 1982

Caffeine-free: A beautiful choice from Tab (1983)

Now caffeine-free as well. It’s as Tab as Tab can be… so if you’re going caffeine-free, this Tab, this taste, is for you.

A beautiful choice from Tab (1983)

Sugar-free Tab cola (1983)

Vintage Body by Tab cola ad from 1982 (3)

MORE TO SEE: Pop culture: Vintage diet sodas from the 80s, like Dr Pepper, Sprite, Diet Coke & Fresca

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Comments on this story

4 Responses

  1. I love the design of the old Tab bottles: the typeface, the texture, the star shaped graphics, and the pink. As I recall, the original version didn’t taste great, but it was all we had unless we drank sugar free Shasta drinks. When Diet Coke came along, it seemed amazing, and yet it wasn’t that different from Tab. When Tab reappeared in grocery stores a few years back, the taste was much better, having used better sweeteners. I wish it could have stuck around. Of course now we have Coke Zero which is better than any of the others!

  2. Tab was the drink that my mom and all my friends’ moms drank. I tried it once and nearly puked. To me, drinking Tab was like drinking medicine; you drank it because there was no other healthy alternative (although you could just drink water). When Diet Coke came out, it was a gamechanger in that it was the first diet soda that people truly enjoyed.

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