by Marion Nestle
Feb 4 2010

The real cost of Coke

I received this note yesterday from Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, about his latest column in The Huffington Post:

How would you feel if you had to pay $8.50 a gallon for gasoline?

Then why on Earth would you pay that much for water and high-fructose corn syrup?

That’s how much Coke costs in those new 7.5-ounce, 90-calorie cans.  Calorie-counters may appreciate the small size (90 calories) but dollar-counters beware:  We did a little math and it turns out that Coke in the new can costs between 50- and 140-percent more than Coke in the old 12-ounce cans.  Basically, Coke is charging two or three cents more per ounce for Coke in a smaller can—and this from a company that throws temper tantrums when lawmakers propose a one-cent-per-ounce tax on soda!

I once asked a group of retailing executives why the cost of smaller size containers was so high (surely the containers don’t cost that much.  They said: “if customers want smaller portions they ought to be willing to pay for them.”  Oh.

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  • Anthro

    That is one of the most utterly arrogant things ever to leave the mouth of an executive! It makes he even happier that no soda has passed my lips for 40 years.

    Thanks, as always, for letting us in on this bit of corporate foolishness.

  • I’m addicted to Diet Coke.

    But I don’t get ripped off by the expensive small cans.

    Nope. I always buy the 2-liter giant economy size.

    I guess maybe the aspartame has melted my brain?

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  • Subvert

    A testament to the moronic consumer populace that cannot think for themselves and/or use common sense in their consumpiton of food. This is a consumer culture that needs and takes direction from all the marketing that is spewed at them. More (really less) power to ’em!

  • Ridiculous. They know health conscious soda lovers (kind of paradoxical) will buy the smaller cans, just like 100 calorie pack rip offs know they can lure in those trying to watch their weight…

  • Tiny soda cans and 100 calorie snack packs are not doing the environment a favor. It’s all junk food, anyway; don’t buy them at all. If you must, just buy an economy size and separate them into reusable tupperware on your own. I realize many people lack will power, but hasn’t the planet paid a big enough price for our faults? I despise Coca Cola, but I’m kind of glad people have to pay more for all of these tiny containers that are headed for the land fills.

  • Daniel

    Sounds like Coca Cola’s interpretation of the fat tax. Artificially inflate prices, so you get fat.

  • Emily

    I lived in Japan for several years, and I’ve always missed the tiny cans of soft drinks they sell there. I don’t even know how big they are–maybe 4 oz.?– but I never want more than a few sips of soda, and those little bitty cans are perfect for that. And, strangely enough, they’re also cheaper than the bigger cans.

  • Just a thought but if we look at the true cost of food and junk food people consuming less coke (if in fact they do with the new cans) could ultimately save money. That’s assuming someone drinking a larger can switches to the smaller one. However, if someone who doesn’t drink coke decides to because “only 90 calories!” that goes out the window.

  • staypuftman

    This seems like a harsh criticism of something that could really help some waistlines around america.

    There is a big push in the nutrition world to limit portion sizes and this move by coke seems to fit nicely into that paradigm. If soda drinkers moved down from a bottle to this can, that’s like a 70% reduction in soda intake. That’s significant.

    Obviously, no one should be drinking this garbage but its going to happen, so this seems like a good move overall.

  • Lorraine Ottens

    I worked for an organic skin care company, our packaging was glass. The small bottles cost on a couple of pennies less than the large ones, and running the production line cost the same. I will bet that the cost of the Coke itself is FAR less than the cost of their packaging. With regard to the environment shouldn’t we reward people for purchasing larger sizes? Everyone does that, that is why we refer to them as “economy” size. Look at Costco. The real issue is the way they present it, as if soda with only 90 calories and no other nutritional benefit is somehow better for you. There are some healthier beverage alternatives (even in the soda world), people just need to look for them.

  • chris

    One of the reasons smaller portions aren’t as cheap is because of the difference between fixed and variable costs. A company has to pay the same price for some things regardless of how much product goes in to each package. Rent on the building for instance, and the salary of the repair guy who fixes the machines when they break. Those kinds of things all have to be paid for however large or small the product is.

    You can thank my managerial accounting professor Dr. Robinson for teaching me about this tidbit.

  • if u truly care about ur health,it dosnt matter if they r givin soda away,u wont drink it. put em out of business by not buyin it. its not a treat either, its just plain garbage. we must re-wire our thought processes. we r havin an intellectual give & take on a worthless product that contributes nothing other than empty calories.soda does not deserve the time of day.if we all ignore it, it wil go away !

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  • The mark-up for the smaller portions, and the reasoning behind it, is obviously ghastly. But a word in defense of the 90-calorie-size cans: it is nice to be able to drink a smaller quantity of soda that is nicely carbonated. The problem with portion controlling carbonated beverages is that once you open a 12-oz. can or a 2-liter bottle, the soda starts to go flat. If you, like many soda drinkers, consider carbonation a vital part of the beverage, then any soda leftover in a 12-oz. can or a large plastic bottle will essentially be wasted, because you cannot enjoy it after the carbonation decreases.

    Most 100-calorie packs, however, are ludicrous, because it’s easy and much cheaper to purchase an economy-size pack of something (pretzels, nuts, yogurt, etc.) and portion it out to individual baggies. And the baggies can even be washed and reused, for the sake of the environment!

  • Cathy Richards

    Smaller cans = less caffeine = less addictive. They want us drinking the bigger cans so that we become more addicted (or habituated if you prefer that terminology) and will buy more. Hence the premium price on the less addictive portion size.

    Bottled water is also more expensive than gasoline. When people complain about gas prices I….well….I won’t say what I think, because Thumper’s mother said “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”.

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  • Chucks

    Well I rarely use coke for much more than making a few mixed drinks with friends, so why should I buy bigger containers that’ll take up more fridge space and will go flat before I’m done? And a $4 pack will last me for months anyways.

    If Coke purchases actually adds up to a significant amount of your budget you need to do some serious re-evaluation, health-wise and budget-wise.

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  • jamez

    There is yet another cost to drinking soft drinks, disposing of the containers, i.e. packaging. Some gets recycled, but some gets landfilled, or otherwise thrown “away.” Our decedents will pay for that in degraded land use.