by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: PepsiCo

Oct 18 2016

Pepsi to reduce sugar in its drinks? Really?

PepsiCo, yesterday, announced that it had launched its sustainability report with an agenda for 2025. 

The sustainability promises look good, but reporters called me for comments only on the first goal in its Products agenda:

  1. At least two-thirds of Pepsi’s global beverage portfolio volume will have 100 calories or fewer from added sugars per 12-ounce serving.

For the record, the other Product goals are:

  1. At least three-quarters of its global foods portfolio volume will not exceed 1.1 grams of saturated fat per 100 calories.
  1. At least three-quarters of its global foods portfolio volume will not exceed 1.3 milligrams of sodium per calorie.

The reporters’ questions assumed that Pepsi plans to reduce the sugar in its full-sugar beverages.

Maybe, but that’s not clear from the press release or the report.

Here’s what I want to know:

  1. The baseline: What proportion of Pepsi drinks already have fewer than 100 calories per 12 ounces?  Pepsi makes loads of beverages that meet that target—Gatorade, bottled waters, diet sodas.
  2. The marketing plan: Will the marketing dollars shift from full-sugar to lower-sugar options?

I ask, because Pepsi’s track record on sugar reduction is not encouraging.  In 2009, Pepsi set a goal to reduce the average amount of added sugars in its drinks by 25% by 2020.

The result?  An increase in average sugars of 4% so far (Pepsi got into trouble with investors who wanted marketing focused on full-sugar beverages).

Pepsi’s sustainability report says the company is working hard to find ways to reduce sugars and “these efforts could yield significant progress.”   Let’s hope they do.

The report also explains how the company plans to reach its lower-sugar goal:

  • Reformulating
  • Creating new low-and no-calorie drinks
  • Making smaller sizes
  • Boosting promotion of lower-calorie drinks

I hope the company does these things, despite its unfortunate record on sugar promises.  We need to wait and see whether the company delivers on this one.

But I’m thinking: Surely this announcement must be designed to head off the ongoing soda tax initiatives.  Pepsi is pouring millions of dollars into fighting the taxes directly and through its membership in the American Beverage Association.

Pepsi wants to have things both ways: to appear to promote healthier beverages while it is fighting public health measures to reduce soda intake.

Let’s give the company the benefit of the doubt and hope it delivers on its promises—while doing everything we can to get those taxes passed.

Here’s one of the articles that quotes me:

The last time Pepsi tried to position itself as doing something for health, its investors got very upset,” Marion Nestle, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies & Public Health at New York University, said in an email. In 2012, investors got mad at PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi for focusing on getting revenue from healthy products, Business Insider reported.

“[PepsiCo] will continue to do everything it can to promote its most profitable products,” Nestle said. “These, alas, tend to be the ones with full sugar.”

Apr 1 2016

Weekend reading: CSPI’s Carbonating the World

Center for Science in the Public Interest has produced a new report:

It’s a lavishly illustrated and well documented investigative report into soda company marketing in developing countries.

Here’s an example of the documentation, enough to explain why Coke and Pepsi are pouring billions of dollars into bottling plants and marketing in India:



For anyone interested in the nutrition transition from undernutrition to overnutrition in developing countries, this report is a must read.  Actually, it’s a must read for anyone who cares about diet and health.  If you do nothing else, look at the marketing illustrations from Nepal, Indonesia, or Nigeria.  They tell the story on their own.

Mar 21 2016

The UK soda tax: a tipping point?

Wonder of wonders, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has put a soda tax into his new budget initiative (see BBC account, the video and text of Osborne’s speech, and the Treasury department’s fact sheet on the soda tax).

Here’s how the tax is supposed to work:

Shocking: Many of Britain's most sugary drinks contain more that the daily recommended amount for one person

Osborne says the tax will bring in £520 million ($732 million) in the first year, and he intends to use it to fund more sports in schools.

But it goes into effect in April 2018.  This is to give the industry time to reformulate products with less sugar.  But—the delay also gives the industry ample time to block the tax.

Public Health England supports the tax (see statement).

But the soda industry wasted no time reacting to this bad news.

  • Coke, Pepsi, and other soft drink companies strongly objected.
  • The immediate result: a fall in their stock prices.
  • The immediate reaction: Sue the government.  On what grounds?  Discrimination.  The tax does not affect sugary juices, milkshakes, or processed foods.

New tax: Soft drinks with more than 5g of sugar will be taxed at 6p per can or carton and drinks with more than 8g of sugar will be taxed at 8pm, which if passed on to the consumer means a can of Old Jamaica ginger beer will go up from 58p to 66p

The makers of artificial and alternative sweeteners think this will be a win for them.

Will the tax help reduce obesity?  On its own, that would be asking a lot.

Jamie Oliver, the British chef who favors the tax, says of course it won’t work on its own.  It needs to be accompanied by six additional actions (food labels, better school food, curbs on marketing to kids, etc.).

Why are soda companies so worried about this?  It could be catching.

Will the UK tax stick?  Watch Big Soda pull out every stop on this one.

And think about what they are doing to fight soda taxes when you read or hear that soda companies want to be part of the solution to obesity.

Mar 11 2016

Should the East River Pepsi-Cola sign be landmarked?

An editor at the New York Times invited me to write an op-ed on the proposed landmarking of the East River Pepsi-Cola sign, but then said:

We’re not going to use this. People really love that Pepsi sign so much that they don’t want to hear arguments against it.

So I offered it to the Daily News.  I’ve written for it before.  Its editors are highly professional and a pleasure to work with.  And it goes to an audience to which I do not usually have access.   See what you think.

The Long Island City Pepsi-Cola sign: Hazard, not landmark

Thursday, March 10, 2016, 5:00 AM
Looks pretty. Tastes sweet. Has ugly side effects.

Looks pretty. Tastes sweet. Has ugly side effects.

I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read that the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission had deemed the Pepsi-Cola sign in Long Island City, Queens, so worthy of permanent preservation that it was considering it for landmark status.

Granted, the neon monument has been part of the East River landscape for the past 80 years. And yes, there is precedent for landmarking a sign rather than a building. Pine Bluff, Ark., chose to landmark a McDonald’s sign, and Cambridge, Mass., preserved a Shell Oil sign.

But the fact is that the Pepsi-Cola sign is a highly visible expression of soda industry marketing. The sign advertises a sugar-sweetened beverage — precisely what the city Health Department has, with good reason, been working hard to discourage New Yorkers from consuming in large quantities.

For the past few years, subway poster campaigns have featured the astonishing amounts of sugar contained in carbonated sodas — close to a teaspoon per ounce. They have also illustrated how this excessive sugar turns to fat in the body, how sugary beverages raise the risk for type 2 diabetes, and how much walking it takes to work off the calories in a single 20-ounce drink — a trek from Union Square to Brooklyn.

And let’s not forget former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ultimately unsuccessful though valiant attempt to set a cap of 16 ounces on sugary beverages sold in places under city jurisdiction.

That particular tactic was hugely controversial. But nobody can seriously dispute that sugary drinks contribute to obesity and its consequences.

Pepsi may be the underdog — Americans drink more Coke — but it is a very large runnerup in the sugary drink category. Its revenues in 2015 amounted to $63 billion worldwide.

Pepsi is Big Soda incarnate. It works hard to maintain that position, spending more than $200 million a year advertising Pepsi-Cola alone. It is also Big Food. Altogether it spends about $2 billion a year on worldwide marketing for all of its products, including Frito-Lay snack foods and other brands.

To generate sales, Pepsi relentlessly targets its marketing to teenagers and young adults and, as part of that approach, generously pays sports and music figures to endorse its products.

We’ve all seen the Super Bowl ads. We know about the reported $50 million deal with Beyoncé. And like Coca-Cola, although not quite to the same extent, PepsiCo funds health organizations such as the American heart and cancer associations, and contributes to health programs at universities such as Yale. All of this can buy loyalty from health professionals, and also silence from them about the role of soft drinks in health.

Soda advertising is so much a part of the American landscape that most of us don’t even notice it anymore. It is just there. And that’s how the company intends it. As an industry executive once told me, effective advertising is supposed to slip below the radar of critical thinking.

I’m guessing that’s what’s happening with the Pepsi-Cola sign. Its significance as advertising for a sugary drink — one best consumed infrequently and in small amounts — has become unnoticeable. To the landmarks folks, therefore, this is just a quaint piece of history — not an active, pulsating sign promoting something dangerous to human health.

But landmarking the Pepsi sign, which is visible to millions of New Yorkers and tourists every single day, would engage New Yorkers as formal partners in marketing sugary drinks.

I can’t help but remember the Camel cigarette sign in Times Square, for years blowing smoke rings. Would today’s Landmarks Preservation Commission want that billboard preserved for eternity? Or would it blush at the thought of promoting and sustaining an icon of corporate marketing, and of an unhealthful product at that?

Nov 24 2015

A casual (non-scientific, but amusing) soda tasting

I gave a talk on Soda Politics to NYU’s long-standing Experimental Cuisine Collective, a partnership between NYU’s chemistry and food studies programs.

I thought it would be fun to start it off with a soda tasting (thanks to Jeff Potter, author of Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food, for the photos):


In my book, I talk about research demonstrating that hardly anyone can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi, or between colas sweetened with table sugar or high fructose corn syrup.  I thought it would be fun to double check.

We asked participants to taste 6 unlabeled soda samples.


The six choices:  Coca-Cola, PepsiCola, Caleb soda, Coca-Cola Life, Mexican Coca-Cola, and a duplicate of Coca-Cola.

The idea was to see whether people could tell which was which and whether they could tell the difference between Coke made with high fructose corn syrup (regular Coke), table sugar (Mexican Coke), or Stevia (Coca-Cola Life).

38 people participated.  Here are the results:

  • Coca-Cola: this was identified correctly by 14/38, but only 10 correctly identified the duplicate.
  • Mexican Coca-Cola: 4/38
  • Coca-Cola Life: 17/38
  • Pepsi: 11/38
  • Caleb’s Cola: 29/38 (it’s color is distinctly different)

Only one person correctly identified all six.  I, alas, only got one right—Caleb’s.  It looks different and tastes less sweet.

You think you can do better?  Give it a try.

Nov 11 2015

San Francisco State vs. Pouring Rights Contracts

When I was in San Francisco last week, I met Janna Cordeiro and Real Food Challenge students from San Francisco State University (SFSU) who are taking on Big Soda.  As Janna explained in an e-mail,

Last spring, SFSU administration quietly released an RFP to solicit a corporate sponsor for Pouring Rights.

The Pouring Rights contract —for a 1 time minimum $2 Million donation and yearly $125K donation— not only includes 80% access to all drinks sold on campus, naming rights for the sports stadiums (and scholarships, seats, etc), access to students and alum for social media campaigns, access to STUDENT-owned campus center, and on and on BUT also an endowed chair in the school of the sponsor’s choice. Pepsi Professor anyone?

She points out that “The students believe that the release of the RFP violated important shared governance agreements that guide the campus, and that it was intentionally kept very low profile.”

She also notes that since San Francisco’s soda tax campaign, several high profile policies limiting SSBs have been passed:

1) City of SF has passed 2 important pieces of legislation: warning label requirements on ads,  ban on use of city funds to purchase ssbs (including the many contractors such as Department of Children Youth and Families), and ban on sub ads on city property

2) The SFUSD passed a comprehensive wellness policy which bans all sugary drinks sold or offered on school grounds including fundraisers/festivals/ and staff/teachers drinking.

3) Most major hospitals are SSB free INCLUDING all of UCSF campuses and our public hospital.

This means:

Essentially, SFSU and our City College Campuses are the only public spaces where SSBs are sold or advertised. So, we can’t let the SFSU administration go through with this, and this group of students from the Real Food Challenge SFSU are stepping up to fight back. Let’s join them and show our support!  They have already organized demonstrations when PepsiCo and Coca-Cola were on campus for their presentations, but have much more planned. The also have a 15 page resolution that covers ALL the bases!

And here’s her call to action:

What can you do?

  1. Sign the petition:   Lots of information on this page so it’s a great place to start. 
  1. Send them a letter of support for them to give the SFSU President Wong who has agreed to meet with them on Nov 19th in an open Town Hall mtg. email:
  1. If you’re local, attend the Town Hall meeting at 12noon on 11/19. Location TBD. Invite on Facebook.
  1. Follow on Facebook—  show your support and Tweet about it. I’ve been pushing out tweets on OpenTruthNow if you need ideas.
  1. If you have connections, help them get high visibility MEDIA attention. Contact me directly, and I can send you the media contact. for the group.

Let’s help them CRUSH Big Soda ! Student Rights not Pouring Rights!



November 13: The San Francisco Chronicle has a discussion of this action (I’m quoted)

November 19: The SFSU president drops the soda partnership proposal!


Jun 22 2015

Yes, you can buy Coke and Pepsi in Cuba

I’ve been in Cuba for the past week on a food sovereignty agricultural tour sponsored by Food First.

I will have more to say about this trip, but I’ll start with my obsession with sodas (because of my forthcoming book, Soda Politics): Does the U.S. embargo prevent sales of Coke and Pepsi in Cuba?

Based on research for the book, I know that Cuba is one of the last remaining countries in which Coke and Pepsi cannot be marketed.  North Korea is another.  Myanmar used to be in that category, but came out of it a couple of years ago.

So I was fascinated to see this street cart in Old Havana (Coke hecho en Mexico):

2015-06-13 16.00.44

And in a small market near the Hotel Nacional (Pepsi bottled in El Salvador):

2015-06-18 16.46.59

And in a suburban supermercado outside of Havana (3-liter Cokes from Mexico):

2015-06-19 15.50.43As for soda marketing, it’s only collectors’ items.  These are on the wall of Paladar San Cristóbal, in Central Havana:

2015-06-19 13.45.41

As I’ll discuss in later posts, these are harbingers of marketing to come.

Apr 28 2015

Is the food movement winning?

Brian Lehrer asked me a question this morning that is well worth pondering.

The gist: Are the recent actions taken by food companies an indication that consumers are having an effect at the expense of science—and at the expense of focusing on more important food issues such as too much sugar, obesity, and diabetes?

He cited these recent events:

  • Tyson’s says it will phase out human antibiotics in broiler production.
  • McDonald’s says it will source chicken that has not been treated with antibiotics.
  • PepsiCo says it is taking aspartame out of its diet sodas (it’s the #1 reason given for not drinking diet cola).
  • Chipotle says it will source GMO-free ingredients.
  • Nestlé says it is removing artificial colors from its chocolate candy.
  • Kraft says it is taking the yellow dyes out of its Mac n’ Cheese.

To all of them, I say it’s about time.

None of these is necessary in the food supply.

There are plenty of scientific questions about all of them, although some—antibiotics, for example—are more troubling than others.

If voting with your fork can achieve these results, they pave the way for taking on the much more difficult issues.

These are big steps forward.  They matter.

They should inspire other companies to do the same.

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