Where Has All the Tab Gone? A Shortage Panics Fans

Hits: 9

The plea for Tab came across in a message on Facebook.

It was Sept. 27, and Anne White saw a post from a neighbor telling her their local grocery store in Cincinnati had been stripped of the diet soda, last popular in the 1980s and now a cult favorite.

“I drank my last one a few days ago and I’m suffering from withdrawal,” the neighbor wrote. “Where are you guys getting it?”

Ms. White, 56, had 10 cans stashed in a cupboard and agreed to leave them on the porch. The next morning, two were gone. Since then, Ms. White has not been able to find Tab anywhere in town. She reserved a few cases online at a Target near Wilmington, N.C. But when she went to buy them, it was sold out.

“A friend brought me three cases from Atlanta,” she said. Those are sure to go fast too.

“It’s a little bit sad, isn’t it?” Ms. White said.

Sad is one word for it. Fans of Tab — who often call themselves Tab addicts or Tabaholics — have another word: conspiracy. Rumors abounded in recent weeks about why their favorite fizzy drink had been whisked off shelves from Cincinnati to Charlotte, N.C.

Some speculated that the Coca-Cola Company, which has been making the soft drink since 1963, had quietly discontinued it. On Wednesday, the company said this was not true.

Others blamed Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated, the largest independent bottler and distributor of Coca-Cola products in the United States. Devotees of the drink who called customer service in recent weeks said they were told that the bottler had discontinued offering Tab in stores in portions of its 14-state territory, which includes Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina and the District of Columbia.

This, the bottler says, is true. “After careful review, we recently removed Tab 12-pack cans from the portfolio of beverages we offer,” the company said in a statement. Instead, it said, it will focus on low- and no-calorie Coca-Cola, Sprite, Fresca and Seagram’s products.

For lovers of Tab it is the latest attempt to take away their beloved soda, a steady threat since Coca-Cola introduced Diet Coke in 1982.

“We’ve been through this before,” said Calvin Boyd, 51, a Tab drinker for four decades who works in the cargo department at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina. “We know what to do.”

Some of them have signed a petition they plan to deliver to Coca-Cola’s Atlanta headquarters. Consumers are calling Coca-Cola regularly to complain. And they are demanding that grocery stores put Tab back on shelves. (A fan group is collecting comments on Facebook.)

Mr. Boyd said a friend of his approached the manager of a Publix supermarket in Charlotte about restocking the shelves. The manager offered to secure a shipment from a Publix in Florida.

“It’s almost like a drug deal,” Mr. Boyd said. “‘Hey man, can you get me a fix?’ I’m a little bit traumatized.”

Among those leading the effort to keep Tab in stores is Natalie Kueneman, a web developer from Ketchum, Idaho, who started drinking Tab as a student at Duke University. Ms. Kueneman, 43, created the blog ilovetab.com in 2000. There, you will find photographs of celebrities drinking Tab and the soda featured in movies. The comedian Sarah Silverman famously devoted a sketch on her show in 2007 to a Tab-addicted friend.

Tab was introduced by the Coca-Cola Company as its first diet cola in 1963.CreditCoca-Cola

“It’s like a real cult community,” said Ms. Kueneman, whose brother is an editor at The Times. “I get five to 10 emails a month from people asking where they can find Tab.”

Tab was an iconic brand long before Ms. Silverman, Ms. Kueneman and others of their generation discovered it. It was introduced in 1963 as Coca-Cola’s first diet soda, highlighted in a television ad as classy enough for candlelight and crystal glasses. It was mostly marketed to women with the message that it would help keep them trim. In the 1970s, there was an extended line of Tab drinks, including caffeine-free and clear versions.

Around that time, studies on laboratory rats showed that the artificial sweetener in Tab, saccharin, could lead to an increased risk of bladder cancer. Those studies did little to hurt Tab sales and were ultimately deemed inconclusive. It still contains saccharin.

By the early 1980s, Tab had reached its cultural zenith. Commercials featured happy couples and women in bikinis on the beach being ogled by men, along with a catchy jingle that Tab was “for beautiful people.”

But in 1982, the Coca-Cola Company introduced Diet Coke, which dampened Tab sales. There were rumors then that the company wanted to phase out the once-popular drink. By 2011, only three million cases of Tab were made, compared with 885 million cases of Diet Coke, according to news reports. About half that is sold now.

Tab lovers refused to give up, building networks of friends and colleagues who advised them where to buy it. Ms. Kueneman said she could not find Tab in San Francisco when she lived there. So she sometimes hired a courier to drive 90 miles north to Sacramento and pick up several cases for her.

Mr. Boyd of Charlotte has a group of friends who alert each other when store shipments come in. He said he occasionally buys Tab online, although it is costly. “With shipping, I once paid nearly $40 for a case,” he said.

Tracy Bowen, a bookkeeper from Fredericksburg, Va., has been drinking Tab since she was 15. “Sometimes I get a cinnamon hit,” she said of the taste. “It’s the closest thing to a real cola taste without the sugar.”

Ms. Bowen said that in 1992 she asked her then husband to go to the store to stock up on Tab ahead of a snowstorm. “He runs into another lady’s husband buying some too,” she recalled. But there was only one case. “So they split what was left between the two of them,” she said, “because they didn’t want to go home without it.”

Ellen Roddy of Lexington, Ky., has called Coca-Cola’s customer service to complain and started a petition on Facebook. In the meantime, she asked a friend to pick some up for her in Alabama, but he didn’t have time. She also said she was going to buy it on Amazon, but $20 for the 12-pack she saw online was too steep. She is considering driving to Indiana to see if stores carry it there.

“Maybe they thought us Tab people would switch over to Diet Coke,” she said.

Not so. Instead, she said, “I’ve been drinking a lot more water.”

Go to Source