by Marion Nestle
Jul 24 2012

The Bloomberg soda initiative: soda companies fight back, overtly and covertly

The hearing on Bloomberg’s soda volume limit takes place today.  I’m traveling and sorry to miss it (I filed comments).

I shouldn’t be surprised but I am stunned by the intensity and depth of soda industry pushback on this, most of it going on and on about the virtues of personal choice, as if container size has nothing to do with the amount people eat.  It does (see below).

In addition to what reporters have been reporting, here’s what I’ve seen personally:

  • A phony “grassroots”petition campaign paid for by the soda industry with campaigners paid $30 per hour to collect signatures
  • A mailing to my home asking me to protest
  • Handout cards
  • Subway posters
  • Tee shirts
  • And highly visible ads on trucks.

And then there’s yesterday’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal from Seth Goldman, the “TEA-EO” of Honest Tea:

I challenge the mayor and the New York City Board of Health to seriously consider the impediments that entrepreneurs already face in our efforts to offer lower-calorie drinks. Starting a business and building a challenger brand with modest resources is already a daunting task. The proposed ban would create additional barriers to beverage innovation.

Only one thing wrong with this.  Mr. Goldman must have forgotten to mention that since March 2011, Honest Tea has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Coca-Cola.

Yes, I know the petition has gathered 75,000 signatures or so.  The campaigners and signers should all know better.  See this, for example:

  • How long did it take for them to come up with the term beverage innovation?

  • The quote that Mr. Goldman uses in the WSJ article – If we don’t change the direction in which we are headed, we will end up where we are going. – cuts both ways.

    Related to soda, we continue to dance around the real solution. The message, plain and simple, needs to be:

    Drink water.

    Mrs. Obama seems to address it with this magnificent quote: “You wouldn’t think of watering a plant with soda.” How profound. Of course, no one would use soda to nourish a plant. So, why in the world would you put it in your body?

    When Steve Jobs was recruiting John Sculley (former CEO of PepsiCo), he made this observation: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water to children, or do you want a chance to change the world?”

    Come on folks, we can change the world. However, first we must change the message.

    These folks seem to know the solution …

    Ken Leebow

  • The story goes on: people have long fought for their right to poison themselves.

    For those who pursue their right to be healthy, CopyKat and Ken (comments above) said it succinctly:

    Beverage doesn’t need “innovation”… the perfect beverage is an extra-jumbo glass of water!


    Allie Chee
    Author, New Mother

  • FrankG

    @Graham: so far as I can tell, no-one is saying how much soda you are allowed to drink. No guns involved… just a recognition that at some stage common-sense exists. Do you really think that large serving sizes are necessary?

    Your opinion is that “people make themselves fat” — what impact, if any, do you think that having to pause (and perhaps think) before going back for a free refill might have on that?

  • The scream test, ie the level of opposition, confirms this initiative is right on target. The reason fro the opposition is very well explained (with historical references) in the recent BBC documentary “The men who made us fat” (12 episodes available on YouTube). See the episodes focused on supersizing the portions because that’s very profitable. Having people buy cheaper portions would hurt the profits. As for all the rights to consume “arguments” they are taken from the tobacco industry PR book.

  • Here is the link to episode 7 of The men who made us fat on YouTube

  • S.L.Greene

    Ms. Nestle,
    I’m a huge fan of yours, & never before have I disagreed with you on anything. But I really think that people who believe this is about fighting obesity (including you, evidently) are totally missing the point. What this is about, in my opinion, is whether a super-rich guy, just because he’s super-rich, is entitled to impose his will on the “little people,” even in their most personal choices that are none of his business. If he were trying to deprive middle-class people of their Starbucks products instead of banning sodas for the working class, we’d be having a completely diffferent conversation.

  • Matt LaPrell

    If I want to drink a gallon of pop in one sitting, that’s my business.

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  • The framing of this issue is very interesting. This is not a soda ban but a packaging ban. The success in garnering public support for packagaing a product is indicative of another marketing coup. Since free refills and “buy one, get one free” permeate our commercial world coupled with the high profit margins of soda, there is little worry that the soda industry will be losing any money by limiting cup size while continuing to promote soda consumption through various marketing strategies. The public is finally being alerted to a marketing technique which the industry has known for some time. A decade ago, research was published on the relationship between larger volume of food, increased consumption and unrelated satiety ( noting increased portions in recipe books, larger dishes and supersized marketing. It is the role of business to make profits and use successful marketing techniques to gain customer demand and loyalty. The industry is again successfully employing the psychology of marketing to frame the NY ban on packaging as a personal freedom issue rather than the marketing ploy that it is.

  • Gold, man!

    Another thing Mr. Goldman failed to address is why he can’t just reformulate his Honest Teas to include a bit less sweetener. Then he could keep the bottle sizes just the way they are.

  • Gold, man!

    Mr. Goldman also forgot to mention that he sits on the Board of Directors of American Beverage Association with a whole bunch of other White Men (and a couple of White Women.)

    Tom L. Bené
    PepsiCo Foodservice

    Vice Chair
    Claude B. Nielsen
    Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
    Coca-Cola Bottling Company United, Inc.

    Susan Neely
    President and Chief Executive Officer
    American Beverage Association

    Patricia Magee Vaughan
    Senior Vice President, Legal and Regulatory Affairs, General Counsel
    American Beverage Association

    Ralph D. Crowley Jr.
    President and Chief Executive Officer
    Polar Beverages

    John E. (Jack) Pelo
    President and Chief Executive Officer
    Swire Coca-Cola, USA

    Board of Directors

    Albert P. Carey
    Chief Executive Officer
    PepsiCo Americas Beverages

    Steve Cahillane
    President and Chief Executive Officer
    Coca-Cola Refreshments

    Brian Charneski
    L & E Bottling Company, Inc.

    Rodger L. Collins
    President, Packaged Beverages
    Dr Pepper Snapple Group

    William B. (Billy) Cyr
    President and Chief Executive Officer
    Sunny Delight Beverages Co.

    Matthew Dent
    President and Chief Operating Officer
    Buffalo Rock Company

    J. Alexander M. (Sandy) Douglas Jr.
    President, Coca-Cola North America
    The Coca-Cola Company

    Paul Finney
    President and Chief Executive Officer
    Pepsi Bottling Ventures

    Jerry Fowden
    Chief Executive Officer
    Cott Corporation

    Seth Goldman
    President and TeaEO
    Honest Tea

    Walter (Wally) Gross III
    Senior Vice President, On-Premise
    G & J Pepsi-Cola Bottlers

    J. Frank Harrison III
    Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
    Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated

    Jeffrey (Jeff) Honickman
    Chief Executive Officer
    Pepsi-Cola & National Brand Beverages, Ltd.

    Kim E. Jeffery
    President and Chief Executive Officer
    Nestlé Waters North America Inc.

    Jim Johnston
    President, Beverage Concentrates and Latin America Beverages
    Dr Pepper Snapple Group

    George Kalil
    Kalil Bottling Co.

    Stefan Kozak
    Chief Executive Officer
    Red Bull North America, Inc.

    Lawrence (Larry) J. Lordi
    Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England

    Scott Miller
    Chief Executive Officer
    Tampico Beverages, Inc.

    J. Andrew Moore
    MLF Group

    Edwin C. Rice
    Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
    Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper

    Cliff Ritchie
    President and Chief Executive Officer
    Carolina Beverage Corp.

    Kirk Tyler
    Atlantic Coca-Cola Bottling Company

    Anthony J. Varni
    Varni Brothers Corporation

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  • The responsibility is with fat people. They have no control. If you are going to limit what I want to buy, then make fat people get licenses for fizzy drinks and have them carded when they do so. Stop this stupid food fascism.