Thursday, September 25, 2014

Big Beverage Pledges to Take Credit For Pre-Existing Consumer Trends

I imagine you've heard of "the big announcement" from Big Beverage, but in case you didn't, a few days ago, on stage at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, The Coca-Cola Company, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, PepsiCo and the American Beverage Association, together pledged to reduce beverage calories consumed per person nationally by 20 percent by 2025.

And it would seem much of the world has swallowed it.

All Big Beverage is actually doing is pledging to take credit for the decade from now outcome of the rapidly shifting and growing consumer sentiment that has already led to a marked reduction in sugar-sweetened beverage sales - a reduction that's likely to accelerate as the World Health Organization's recommendation that added sugar be capped at 6 teaspoons daily is formally accepted, as nutrition fact panel reform that specifically calls out added sugar goes live, and as the science fingering excess free sugar consumption as a bad plan continues to accumulate. In fact given the growing groundswell against free sugar, I'd be genuinely surprised if sugar sweetened beverage sales don't go down by more than 20% over the coming decade.

This is all just smoke and mirrors. Hitching themselves to the already rapidly decreasing consumer interest in their products is a brilliant move that will likely help Big Beverage to forestall soda taxes and legislation by allowing them to pretend that they're part of the solution.

What sorts of consumer campaigns would convince me that Big Beverage really did want to drive down their own profits (which of course they legally can't because of their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders) and change American's beverage choices?

Campaigns telling consumers that they should immediately and dramatically minimize their consumption of soda, that switching to artificially sweetened beverages is only a shift to a lesser evil and that their consumption too should be minimized, and that tap water is hugely preferable to bottled water as bottled water is an entirely unnecessary and expensive environmental blight. We might also see food industry pledges not just to make smaller sizes, but to stop selling larger ones, slashes to advertising budgets, and a commitment to immediately stop using Santa Claus, polar bears, teen idols, and sport and entertainment industry celebrities and stars to hawk their products.

Anything less than the above is just lip service and I for one can't wait for the day (and it'll come), when society stops listening to the food industry's wholly explicable, and ultimately unhelpful, self-serving machinations and starts treating them as the non-evil, profit-driven corporations that they are who by definition must place profits and self-preservation ahead of public health.