The soda wars are always escalating, every time brands come out with a new flavor or formula, their competitors race to come out with a similar soda in their own lineup. That’s why we have so many versions of colas, root beers, fruit sodas, and other drinks.
Soda might not be very good for you, but as an occasional treat, it can be a great way to liven up your day or make a meal seem extra special.
In a world of fierce competition between different drink-making companies, seeing a company replace a classic and beloved recipe with a different one, but that’s exactly what happened with Sierra Mist and Starry.
Starry is the new replacement for the Sierra Mist and fans of the drink have some pretty mixed feelings on the new formula. Some people love the new drink, while others wish that the classic Sierra Mist formula would come back.
Since these are two drinks with a very similar formula, we’re not going to compare them in quite the same way as our normal comparison articles. We’ve also decided to highlight them head-to-head a little differently since you can’t get new Sierra Mist anymore.
So, let’s talk about the changes, what you can expect when you buy Starry, and everything else you need to know if you’re still deciding whether you want to bring Starry into your home.
What Was Sierra Mist?
Sierra Mist was one of the more popular lemon-lime sodas, with a distinctly sweet taste and a muted citrus flavor. It was a favorite among parents as an upset tummy cure for their kids, and a favorite among kids thanks to the fact that the no-caffeine formula made a lot of parents let their kids drink it younger.
One of the things that made Sierra Mist stand out from the crowd, at least after it was reformulated in 2012, was that the standard formula of the drink was made with cane sugar, which made it taste a bit sweeter and also gave it a different nutritional profile than other drinks.
Sierra Mist tasted sweeter than a lot of its competitors, including 7up and Sprite, but was noticeably less citrusy than either. For people who wanted a stronger flavor, Sierra Mist was never a favorite.
Other formulas of Sierra Mist called for stevia, and later corn syrup replaced sugar again in 2014, but neither formula gained much additional traction with consumers.
For dishes like the iconic 7Up angel food cake, Sierra Mist wasn’t a great alternative. The sweetness was the same, but the lack of citrus flavor meant that it didn’t taste much different from just using sugar as a sweetener instead of the soda.
Of the big three lemon-lime sodas before Sierra Mist was replaced with Starry, Sierra Mist consistently played 3rd fiddle to 7Up and Sprite, with Sprite consistently performing as the preferred drink of consumers.
Why Change The Recipe?
Since Sierra Mist wasn’t performing as well as the other lemon-lime drinks it makes sense that PepsiCo would want to change the formula, but rebranding was a surprising choice for a drink that had already gone through a couple of different iterations.
After all, if they were just going to switch from cane sugar to corn syrup, that had already been done, more than once, under the Sierra Mist brand name.
However, a recipe change wasn’t necessarily going to make as much of a difference as you might think. People shop with their eyes and their mind long before they actually taste a drink.
People who already had certain expectations of Sierra Mist might not notice a significant change in the flavor profile or recipe, even if the company launched an expensive marketing campaign to inform consumers.
Changing brands not only meant that PepsiCo has a chance to win over more customers from 7Up and Sprite, but it also means that people drinking the soda are a lot more likely to give it a fresh chance.
By changing the name and design of Starry, PepsiCo essentially made sure people would think this was a new soda, not just Sierra Mist 3.0.
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What Are The Differences Between Sierra Mist And Starry?
When you look at the ingredient lists of Sierra Mist and Starry you’ll notice that the two drinks are almost identical.
One of the biggest differences is that Sierra Mist was still available in the cane sugar formula, but Starry isn’t. Like most of their biggest competitors, PepsiCo went with high-fructose corn syrup over cane sugar.
There’s also a bit more citric acid in Starry. Citric acid is where the tangy flavor comes from in citrus fruits and is the common element across different kinds of citrus. So, the additional citric acid helps create a fresher tang and makes sure that the tanginess is a little more prominent on your tongue vs. Sierra Mist's old formula.
Otherwise, the ingredients are basically the same. But that’s not a surprise. PepsiCo isn’t replacing Sierra Mist as a failed product. Instead, they’re reformulating an existing and moderately successful drink, hoping to make an even more successful alternative.
Making a big formula change doesn’t serve PepsiCo’s interests. But tweaking an existing and effective formula to try and make it taste better, that isn’t nearly as difficult to do.
Taste Test: Head-To-Head, Can You Tell The Difference Between Sierra Mist And Starry?
One of the best and most important tests anytime a soda company changes formulas like this is whether the new formula actually tastes different. Rebranding, redesigning the bottle or the label design, or launching an advertising campaign can all be marketing tricks to make people think they are getting a different product, which means that you can’t always assume that the new product line will actually taste any different.
Well, the results are in, for most consumers the differences are subtle enough that they’d be hard-pressed to say whether there is a difference between Sierra Mist and Starry.
But, with a closer comparison, the differences are there, and they do show up in the flavor, if only unconsciously.
When you taste the two sodas side by side, and really compare the flavors, there are a few things that taste different. Of course, it’s a bit challenging to do that now since people who still have unopened Sierra Mist are selling the soda at a premium.
The first thing you’ll notice tasting them is that Sierra Mist is particularly sweet. That’s one of the reasons it wasn’t as popular as the other lemon-lime sodas, Sprite has a more balanced flavor, and 7Up has so much citrus it is almost dry.
Compared with Starry, Sierra Mist is definitely the sweeter of the two. The sugary taste comes through up front, before any other flavor.
By contrast, Starry tastes and feels a little drier. It’s almost as sweet, but since high-fructose corn syrup has less of its own flavor than cane sugar, the sweetness isn’t the flavor you taste first, instead, you get more of the citrus flavor.
With Sierra Mist the citrus flavor is almost an aftertaste, and pretty distinctly lemon-lime and balanced between both flavors.
Starry tastes more lemony up front, and then finishes with a slightly more lime flavor.
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That said, the biggest difference in the flavor really is that it tastes like Starry has less sugar or sweetener than Sierra Mist.
In terms of the actual content and calories though, neither soda comes out better than the other. Starry actually has slightly more of its sweetener, and a few more calories because of it. But the difference is relatively slight. Unless you’re really counting the calories closely, the new recipe for Starry isn’t that much worse than Sierra Mist.
When it comes to kids, the real target demographic for both Sierra Mist and Starry, the differences get more clear. Kids taste-testing the new formula pretty consistently report that Starry tastes cleaner and brighter and that Starry is better for thirst while Sierra Mist can leave you craving something better for thirst.
The differences are still pretty subtle though.
Are There Differences In Cooking With Starry vs. Sierra Mist?
Not really. Neither Starry nor Sierra Mist is likely to be used in much cooking, but for the few recipes that do call for these ingredients, both drinks will work equally well.
Both of these drinks have similar levels of carbonation, similar sweetness, and relatively similar levels of citric acid. Of course, since Starry has slightly more high fructose corn syrup, and also slightly higher levels of citric acid, you might notice that the newer drink has a slightly stronger flavor.
It’s pretty common for soda to be used as a leavener in baked goods, and both of these sodas work well for that purpose. However, since there is a little more citric acid in Starry it can have a stronger reaction to baking soda and baking powder. You might need to adjust your recipes a little if you’re using a recipe that calls for both.