Diet Coke celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and like many crossing over into their 30s, the brand can look back on some significant achievements and forward to some daunting challenges as well.

Diet Coke was not the first diet soda, but it has been the most successful. In 2010, the brand became the second-best selling carbonated soft drink in the US, and Coca-Cola says it is the third-largest soft drink in the world.

The brand is also popular across age demographics. While younger consumers in general are less likely to drink diet soft drinks, Diet Coke is the leading diet brand among 18- to 34-year-olds in the US. Mintel’s February 2012 Carbonated Soft Drinks report shows 68% of diet CSD drinkers under age 34 drink Diet Coke.

Millennials are an ideal target for carbonated soft drink brands

The brand’s focus on style and fashion has kept this a core demographic, while not alienating older consumers. As CPG companies try to crack the code on Millennial consumers, Diet Coke may be one of the brands to watch.

Millennials are hardly elusive — their “likes” and dislikes are displayed everywhere in social media. Despite that, they are a challenge to food and drink manufacturers. Millennials grew up with more product variety, so they are accustomed to having choices. They shop at a wide range of retail outlets, and buy groceries at mass merchandisers, convenience stores and even drug stores. Those tendencies are one of the key reasons retailers like Walgreens are branching out into new store formats.

Despite being one of the largest demographics for CSDs, Millennials also have tested the industry. Their desire for variety led to the rise of energy drinks, RTD teas and enhanced waters, and forced major CSD-makers to embrace these products.

CSDs and the diet category have diversified even further, having taken some serious hits in the battle against obesity. The past year has seen the new mid-calorie Pepsi Next from PepsiCo, 10-calorie diet drinks from Dr Pepper Snapple, and even some stevia-sweetened CSDs making tentative steps into the marketplace.

That will challenge Diet Coke to stay relevant with consumers of all ages, but especially the variety-seeking younger set. Diet Coke’s appeal across age groups shows its ability stay on trend and is one of its strongest assets. But the brand enters its next decade with competition at its heels. Like many new 30-year-olds, it will need to combine its still youthful ambitions with its more mature self, and it will try to use that knowledge to grow its own sales and the diet category as a whole.

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