(Bloomberg) – In a crowded lab on the edge of Copenhagen, food scientists at Swiss biotech company Evolva Holding are scrambling to help reinvent one of the world’s most popular drinks. The location is no accident. The Danish city’s Carlsberg brewery discovered a way to isolate pure yeast cells in 1900, which was crucial to the mass production of beer, and the town has been a hub of fermentation innovation ever since. But instead of designing a new Pilsner or bock, these researchers are harnessing high-tech yeast to craft a far different quaff: the perfect soda.
In biotech labs from California and New Jersey to Denmark, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and their suppliers are racing to find the industry’s holy grail—a soda that tastes as good as the iconic colas, is sweetened naturally, and has zero calories. Falling out of sync with consumers’ taste buds isn’t the issue. A century after first appearing as a drugstore elixir, the sweet, caramel-colored beverage remains the world’s most popular packaged drink. Globally, colas account for more than half of all sodas sold. The challenge for the $187 billion soft drink industry is giving consumers in developed markets the sugary taste they want without giving them the mouthful of calories they don’t. Concerns about obesity and health have led to nine years of falling U.S. soda consumption.