The Real Difference Between Sierra Mist & Starry Will Shock You (2024)

The results will shock you.

By Gabby Romero
The Real Difference Between Sierra Mist & Starry Will Shock You (1)

Let’s be honest: Sierra Mist was the black sheep of lemon-lime sodas. First released by PepsiCo in 1999, it always played third fiddle to both Sprite and 7UP.

For decades, Sierra Mist tried to find itself with rebranding and reformulation. The soda was first made with high fructose corn syrup, then pivoted to the cane sugar-based Sierra Mist Natural in 2010. Then PepsiCo added stevia to the Sierra Mist formula in 2014, only to switch back to corn syrup and rebrand as Mist Twst two years later.

Then, as a last ditch effort, the soda’s recipe changed back to cane sugar once again and re-adopted its original name. While many consumers opted for Sierra Mist to minimize their consumption of high fructose corn syrup, Sprite always remained king.

Coca-Cola's Sprite generated six times more in sales in 2021, according to research firm Statista. PepsiCo finally decided to retire Sierra Mist for good in January of this year. And before we even got the chance to mourn the loss, they released Starry in its place.

Store shelves were swapped seemingly overnight. Sierra Mist’s social media accounts were abandoned. Starry became PepsiCo's new direct competitor to Sprite.

“With one product dominating the category, consumers deserve another option…one that hits different,” said Greg Lyons, Chief Marketing Officer at PepsiCo Beverages North America, in a statement.

But…what exactly makes Starry different than Sierra Mist? I went on a journey to find out.

I first had to find a can of Sierra Mist, which is much harder than you’d think. Third party sellers are leaping at the opportunity to capitalize on the limited supply—one eBay seller is listing a 20-ounce bottle for a whopping $25,000.

I managed to secure a 12-ounce can for $15, grabbed a bottle of Starry for $3, then took a hard look at the nutrition information for both.

The Real Difference Between Sierra Mist & Starry Will Shock You (3)

The ingredients lists are nearly identical. The only swap is the source of sugar. Sierra Mist contained cane sugar while Starry follows the lead of its competitors by using high fructose corn syrup. The order of the ingredients, which are listed in descending order based on the amount present in the formula, are essentially the same as well. However, there is slightly more citric acid in Starry.

After conducting all of the preliminary research, it was finally time to do the taste test. And the results are not exactly shocking: they both taste like lemon-lime soda.

“If you didn’t tell me these were two different sodas, I wouldn’t have noticed,” said our director of video, Julia Smith. “I’m trying to come up with noticeable differences, and it’s a struggle.”

I had to go back for several sips to identify the differences. And while they are subtle, they do exist. Sierra Mist, for one, is almost cloyingly sweet. The cane sugar adds a complex and intense sweetness that pushes the lemon-lime notes to the wayside.

Starry’s high fructose corn syrup is a cleaner, more neutral source of sugar that makes the citrus pop. The flavor is more crisp and refreshing. When directly compared to Sierra Mist, it almost tastes as if Starry contains less sugar.

But when you check the nutrition facts, the opposite is true. Starry contains 3.25 grams of sugar per fluid ounce versus Sierra Mist’s 3.08 grams. The newcomer’s less-syrupy flavor can instead be attributed to two things: the refined chemical structure of the corn syrup lends a simpler flavor and Starry’s formula includes more citric acid than Sierra Mist.

Our office couldn’t agree on which soda tasted better. The public’s reception to the new soda is also mixed, with users flooding Starry’s social media channels either to praise the soda or beg for Sierra Mist’s return. Only time will tell if PepsiCo’s new lemon-lime soda will reach the same status as Sprite.

What do you think of Starry? Let us know in the comments.

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