by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Coca-Cola

Sep 11 2018

Why food companies should not have a role in formulating obesity policy

I was interested to read FoodNavigator-Asia’s account of food industry comments on what to do about obesity is Australia.

By all reports, two-thirds of Australian adults meet definitions of overweight or obesity, along with a quarter of all children.  A Senate committee is collecting ideas about what to do about this, including those from the food industry.

Food-Navigator-Asia has taken a look at some of the submitted comments, particularly in light of comments from medical groups encouraging social, environmental, regulatory and medical interventions, and arguing that food companies should be kept out of formulating policies due to their inherent conflicts of interest.

The article quotes three companies.

Coca-Cola Amatil says taxes would be counterproductive because it is already reducing the sugar in its products.

Fonterra (a dairy company) says obesity is not the problem; instead, underconsumption of dairy products is the problem.

Nestlé [no relation] blames consumers; it is trying to reduce salt and sugar in its products but the public isn’t buying them.  It also blames government, which it says should do a better job of educating the public about diet and health.

Obesity poses a formidable problem for food companies making junk foods.  They have stockholders to please.  They cannot be expected to voluntarily act in the interest of public health if doing so affects profits.

That is why food companies should have no role whatsoever in developing policies to prevent or treat obesity.

Jul 2 2018

Big Soda strong-arms California: no more soda taxes for 12 years. Shame!

In 2017, Jennifer Pomeranz and Mark Pertschuck published an article in the American Journal of Public Health titled State Preemption: A Significant and Quiet Threat to Public Health in the United States.

How right they were.

Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law banning new soda tax initiatives in the state until 2030, thereby preempting local initiatives planned and in progress.

How did this happen?

Raw, overt power politics (my emphasis throughout).  The Sacramento Bee shows how it’s done.

The Hill explains that this bill was a compromise.

The measure was a last-minute compromise to stop an initiative circulated by the beverage industry that would make it more difficult to raise state and local taxes in California.  “Mayors from countless cities have called to voice their alarm and to strongly support the compromise which this bill represents,” Brown wrote in a signing message.

Big Soda’s tactic: use California’s ballot initiative process to put forth a measure requiring a two-thirds majority to pass any new tax legislation.  Brown and those mayors must have assumed it would pass (anything to prevent new taxes).  Brown said he would agree to a 12-year moratorium on new soda taxes if the soda industry would withdraw the measure.  It did, and he signed.

In explaining the so-called “compromise” (in quotes because this was blackmail), US News quotes state senator Scott Wiener (Dem-San Francisco):

This industry is aiming a nuclear weapon at government in California and saying, ‘If you don’t do what we want we are going to pull the trigger and you are not going to be able to fund basic government services.”

In other words, the beverage industry held the state hostage. Like the Sacramento Bee, I’d call this a shakedown.

The Sacramento Bee also called it extortion—a power play by the American Beverage Association that:

appears to be working as intended. As the deadline for signing the state budget approaches this week, a developing trailer bill attached to it would give Big Soda a 12-year ban on local soda taxes in exchange for dropping a ballot initiative that would threaten the finances of cities throughout California. Who says extortion doesn’t pay?

The New York Times explains the “stunning” preemption:

Now the beverage industry has a new approach. Instead of fighting the ordinances city by city, it is turning to states, trying to pass laws preventing any local governments from taxing their products.

The reactions have been fierce.

Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association says, “We’ve seen some cynical moves to protect profits, but this soda tax ban is a new low.”   The American Heart Association issued a statement:

The bill—a last-minute, backroom deal negotiated and written in secret by beverage industry lobbyists and their allies—is a significant step backwards in the ongoing effort to reduce overconsumption of sugary drinks.

“This is one of the worst pieces of legislation I have seen in more than 30 years spent fighting for better health for kids and families,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “We could not be more disappointed to see this bill, taken straight from the tobacco industry playbook, pass.”

The LA Times said “Shame on California lawmakers for caving in to the soda industry.”

Salon explains:

There’s a lot at stake for America’s biggest soda companies. Carbonated soft drinks – such as Coke, Fanta, Sprite, and Fresca – make up two-thirds of Coca-Cola’s production, and U.S. soda sales earned the company more than $10 billion in 2015. And PepsiCo’s soda sales – including Pepsi, 7Up, and Mountain Dew – still account for one-quarter of the company’s $38 billion in North American sales, despite a shift toward healthier products. But soda consumption fell to its lowest point in 31 years in the U.S. in 2016, according to Fortune, and Coca-Cola concedes that sweetened beverage taxes “are hurting Coke’s business.”

I’ll end with this quote from the New York Times:

Bill Monning, the Senate majority leader, was one of a handful of Democrats who voted against the bill. He called its passage “unprecedented” and said it would stop cities and counties “from being able to take steps to protect the health of their residents”…“It’s a sad day for democracy in California,” he said. “But ever the optimist I think that the outrage of Big Soda blackmailing the state legislature and the people of California is going to boomerang.”

Let’s make sure that happens.

And while we are at it, don’t let this happen in your state.  If the soda industry threatens to mess with state elections, tell your representatives and governor to resist.  California public health advocates: keep the pressure on.  Advocate for bans on sodas everywhere you can: schools, hospitals, workplaces, government offices.  Expose what the industry is doing to protect its profits at the expense of public health.  Don’t give up.  Courage!

For the record, here’s where to find out more about this shameful episode.

Jun 12 2018

Biggest global food companies, according to Forbes

Forbes has published a ranking of the top 2000 global companies (all kinds, not just food) by a composite score of revenue, profit, assets, and market value.

Forbes summarizes some of the information for food processing companies.  By its measure, Anheuser Busch, Nestlé, and PepsiCo are the top three.

Coca-Cola, however, ranks #209, a big drop from last year’s #86.  It did not have a good year last year.

You can sort the list by name or category.  I did that for four categories: Beverage, Food processing, Food retail, and Restaurants.

Walmart does not show up as a food retailer; Forbes considers it a Discount Store, even though food accounts for nearly half of Walmart’s revenues, nearly $200 billion a year.

Here are the food, beverage, retail, and restaurants that show up as among the top 250 companies, worldwide.  I only included sales and profits in this  table; you would have to add in assets and market value to understand the ranking system.

Food, beverage, retail, and restaurant companies among the biggest 250 companies worldwide.

RANK  COMPANY SALES

$ Billions

PROFITS

$ Billions

24 Walmart, US 500.3*  9.9
41 Anheuser-Busch, Belgium  56.4  7.9
48 Nestlé, Switzerland  91.2  7.3
102 PepsiCo, US  64.0  4.9
103 Unilever, Netherlands  60.6  6.8
126 Kraft-Heinz, US  26.2  11.1
209 Coca-Cola, US  33.7  1.4
211 Mondelēz International, US  26.2  3.2
239 Danone, France  27.8  2.8
241 McDonald’s, US  22.3  5.4

*About 40% of sales are from food.

This is why Walmart is the elephant in the food-business room.

Mar 14 2018

Soda Politics: Japan style

I am in Japan this week and am fascinated to see that Coca-Cola produces special products with seasonal themes, just in time for cherry blossoms (which, alas, are not quite out yet):

And it offers fruity varieties:

For the first time, Coca-Cola is adding alcohol to canned Coke (the rum, as in “Rum and Coca-Cola” was not premixed).  It is launching the new alcohol-laced soft drink for the Japanese market.

Japanese supermarkets are already crowded with alcohol-infused soft drinks and teas.  I got this at the OK Supermarket in Yokohama:

Here’s a close up of one variety:

Most soft drinks in Japan, with or without alcohol, are local brands.

Will alcohol help Coke increase market share?  Can’t wait to find out.

Jan 29 2018

Soft drinks: anything that sells

The soft drink industry is in big trouble.  Sugary drinks aren’t great for health, and sales are down.  But this industry keeps trying.

I’m starting to collect interesting innovations.  Would you believe?

Yum?

Sep 19 2017

The NY Times’ blockbuster investigation: Big Food in Brazil

The article, which starts on the front page and continues to another two full pages and more, is headlined How Big Business got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.

It’s mostly about how Nestlé (no relation) recruits women in low-income countries to sell the company’s products from small mobile carts.

Here are a few quotes:

  • Nestlé’s direct-sales army in Brazil is part of a broader transformation of the food system that is delivering Western-style processed food and sugary drinks to the most isolated pockets of Latin America, Africa and Asia. As their growth slows in the wealthiest countries, multinational food companies like Nestlé, PepsiCo and General Mills have been aggressively expanding their presence in developing nations, unleashing a marketing juggernaut that is upending traditional diets from Brazil to Ghana to India.
  • Sean Westcott, head of food research and development at Nestlé, conceded obesity has been an unexpected side effect of making inexpensive processed food more widely available.  “We didn’t expect what the impact would be,” he said.
  • Ahmet Bozer, president of Coca-Cola International, described to investors in 2014.  “Half of the world’s population has not had a coke in the last 30 days.  There’s 600 million teenagers who have not had a coke in the last week. So the opportunity for that is huge.”
  • “What we have is a war between two food systems, a traditional diet of real food once produced by the farmers around you and the producers of ultra-processed food designed to be over-consumed and which in some cases are addictive,” said Carlos A. Monteiro, a professor of nutrition and public health at the University of São Paulo.  “It’s a war,” he said, “but one food system has disproportionately more power than the other.”
  • [From Felipe Barbosa, a  Nestlé supervisor:] “The essence of our program is to reach the poor,” Mr. Barbosa said. “What makes it work is the personal connection between the vendor and the customer.”
  • But of the 800 products that Nestlé says are available through its vendors, Mrs. da Silva says her customers are mostly interested in only about two dozen of them, virtually all sugar-sweetened items like Kit-Kats; Nestlé Greek Red Berry, a 3.5-ounce cup of yogurt with 17 grams of sugar; and Chandelle Pacoca, a peanut-flavored pudding in a container the same size as the yogurt that has 20 grams of sugar — nearly the entire World Health Organization’s recommended daily limit.

The article is worth the read.  Or see the 3-minute video for a quick summary.  It also comes with a nifty interactive map of world obesity.

Politico Pro Agriculture asked Nestlé for a comment (this may be behind a paywall):

A Nestlé spokesperson defended the company while acknowledging the deeper childhood obesity problems currently plaguing Brazil. “We are disappointed by the New York Times’ biased approach in this article, which we believe does not accurately reflect the breadth and reality of our product portfolio in the context of the public health issues impacting the people of Brazil,” the spokesperson said. “However, we do agree that the real and serious issues raised in the article should be discussed in a balanced and constructive way that focuses on practical solutions.”

Resources

Here’s the article en Español.

And here it is em Português.

Take a look at Center for Science in the Public Interest’s report on Carbonating the World, which covers much of the same territory for Coca-Cola.  In the meantime, subsequent articles in this series are promised for soft drinks and fast food.

 

Jul 27 2017

The CDC Nominee’s Links to Coca-Cola

Last Sunday’s New York Times had a front-page story on Coca-Cola’s relationship to the current nominee for director of the CDC.  I’m quoted in it and soon got this request:

Good morning, Marion:

I saw this Times news coverage in which you’re quoted.

Given this news about reversing the CDC’s position on aligning with the private sector on sugar sweetened beverages, I’m wondering if you’d be game to elaborate on this and provide your perspective on it.

Sure.  Happy to.

The New York Times story on Coca-Cola’s connections to Brenda Fitzgerald, President Trump’s nominee to head the CDC, goes right into the book I’m writing.  The book is about food, beverage, and supplement industry funding of nutrition research and practice and with luck will be published by Basic Books late in 2018.

Fitzgerald was health commissioner for the state of Georgia and at first glance looks well qualified to head the CDC.  But a health advocacy group, US Right to Know, has had a long-standing interest in Coca-Cola’s cozy relationships with CDC—both Coke and CDC are in Atlanta, after all—and at some point obtained emails through FOIA that explain just how cozy.

Here’s what especially got my attention in the Times article :

  • While she was health commissioner, Fitzgerald accepted a million-dollar grant from Coca-Cola for an obesity program focused exclusively on physical activity—for sure, not on the health benefits of drinking less Coke (focusing on physical activity has long been a deliberate strategy of this company).
  • People associated with the activity program said “Coke had no influence over the program.”  Of course that’s what they think.  Much research shows that recipients of industry funding do not recognize the influence.  Such influence is unintentional, unconscious, and invariably denied.
  • When the previous CDC director, Tom Frieden, canceled Coca-Cola’s funding of obesity programs (he said it was unjustifiable “to have Coca-Cola run an obesity campaign that had an exclusive focus on physical activity), he asked company officials if they would be willing to fund something in “neutral space” like transportation or water programs.  Not a chance.

Food, beverage, and supplement companies are happy to fund research with a high probability of supporting marketing objectives.   Industry-funded research almost invariably comes out with results favorable to the sponsor’s commercial interests.

It’s unreasonable to expect otherwise.  Food companies are not public health agencies; they are businesses expected to generate profits and returns to shareholders—that is their #1 priority.

The moral for public health: don’t take the money.

 

 

 

Feb 13 2017

Mexican soda tax advocates victims of government-linked spyware hacking

Who knew that such things existed, let alone that they would be directed at anti-obesity and pro-soda tax advocates.

The New York Times reports that frightening messages about their families (the article gives examples) were sent to the advocates with links

laced with an invasive form of spyware developed by NSO Group, an Israeli cyberarms dealer that sells its digital spy tools exclusively to governments and that has contracts with multiple agencies inside Mexico, according to company emails leaked to the New York Timeslast year.

Supposedly, this Group sells “tools only to governments for criminal and terrorism investigations.”  These can “trace a target’s every phone call, text message, email, keystroke, location, sound and sight.”

As the Times gently puts it, this discovery “raises new questions about whether NSO’s tools are being used to advance the soda industry’s commercial interests in Mexico.”

Citizen Lab has more information about this situation.

The spyware targeted these individuals:

  • Dr. Simon Barquera is a well-respected researcher at the Mexican Government’s Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública (National Institute of Public Health).
  • Alejandro Calvillo is the Director of El Poder del Consumidor, a consumer rights and health advocacy organization.
  • Luis Encarnación is the Director of the Coalición ContraPESO, a coalition of more than 40 organizations that work on obesity prevention and reduction strategies.  All three individuals work to support Mexico’s soda tax.

I am leaving on Wednesday for three weeks on a Fulbright to the National Institute of Public Health in Cuernavaca and hope to find out a lot more about this.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here’s a tweet from someone I don’t know (I like the soda cans).

Late addition:  Gary Ruskin sends his paper on corporate espionage against nonprofit organizations.