(USA Today) - The national infatuation with all things skinny has finally come to this: Slurpee Lite.
The brain-freezing drink best known for its weird colors, wild tastes and wacky name now wants to also be known for at least one redeeming feature: fewer calories.
In an unlikely national platform pegged for summer but rolling out this week, 7-Eleven, the nation's largest convenience chain, will announce a low-cal line of Slurpees. While 7-Eleven has sold low-cal, saccharin-based Slurpees regionally, this is the 45-year-old drink's first national, low-calorie line - and this one's made with Splenda.
The move comes at a time when companies have been marketing everything from "Spam Lite" to "skinny cocktails" aimed at calorie-conscious consumers. "You have to wonder what would happen to the obesity epidemic if light products tasted better," says Lynn Dornblaser, new products guru at research firm Mintel.
Slurpee Lite will target females in their 20s with this tagline: "All flavor. No sugar." An 8-ounce Slurpee Lite Fanta Sugar-Free Mango has 20 calories vs. 66 calories in an 8-ounce Fanta Wild Cherry Slurpee drink, the best-selling conventional Slurpee.
It's all about juicing sales. "We talked to a group who said they would drink Slurpees more often if we take out the sugar and reduce the calories," says Laura Gordon, vice president of brand innovation. To get folks familiar with the line, 7-Eleven will offer free 7.11-ounce Slurpees on "SlurpFree Day" May 23. Lite Mango (and other flavors) will be available, but not two sugar-free flavors due this summer: strawberry banana and cherry limeade.
One nutritionist is unimpressed. "Now it's just a different kind of junk food," says Neal Barnard, adjunct associate professor of medicine at George Washington University. "This should not be mistaken as any kind of corporate responsibility. They're just trying to sell you the same stuff in a different package."
The overriding problem with most light foods and drinks: lousy taste.
Still, 80 percent of U.S. consumers say they're interested in low-calorie, low-fat or low-sugar foods. But 43% say the biggest challenge to dieting is the taste of diet foods, reports Mintel.
7-Eleven insists it's nailed low-cal taste. But Barnard warns: "Slurpee had zero nutritional value then, and it has zero nutritional value now."