The major soft drink companies, including Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, plan to launch next year a “Calories Count Vending Program” that will focus on promoting lower-calorie products at vending machines, Beverage Digest reported Monday.
The move is an effort by the industry, in cooperation with the American Beverage Association, to address the nation’s growing obesity epidemic, Beverage Digest said.
The program, which will kick off in municipal buildings in Chicago and San Antonio, will increase the availability of low-calorie beverages in machines, display messages such as “Calories Count — Try a Low-Calorie Beverage” and add calorie labels disclosing calorie counts to vending buttons, the industry publication said. It will roll out the rest of the country later in the year.
“This appears to be an attempt by the industry to start an initiative — not just to make diet and low-calorie products available — but also to try and motivate consumers to buy and consume more diet and low-calorie products, i.e., to shift consumer behavior,” wrote John Sicher, Beverage Digest’s editor and publisher.
Health experts and critics of the soft drink industry have for years blamed part of the country’s expanding waistline on the consumption of sugary beverages. This summer, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed controversial limitations on the consumption of sugary drinks in the nation’s largest city. The New York City Board of Health in September approved Bloomberg’s restrictions and beginning in March, restaurants, movie theaters and delis will be banned from selling sugary drinks in sizes larger than 16 ounces.
Asked by Sicher if the industry’s vending machine move is a first step to persuade consumers to drink more diet or lower-calorie drinks, leaders of the top brands said no.
“It’s not about telling people what to drink,” said Steve Cahillane, head of Coca-Cola Refreshments. “People love our brands and they’re also telling us they want more choices and easy to understand calorie and nutrition information. We’ve always been able to tap into what matters to people, and that drives our marketing. This effort is no different. Anything we can do to make it easier for folks to choose what’s right for them is ultimately right for us.”
Said Al Carey, Chief Executive Officer of Pepsi Americas Beverages: “At PepsiCo, we’re working to make lower-calorie beverage choices easier for consumers to make through the choices we offer and the information we provide. Our industry is coming together on several leadership initiatives including this one in Chicago and San Antonio. We are taking the obesity challenge seriously, and consumers will see several meaningful examples of this in the upcoming year.”
Jim Johnston, president of Dr Pepper Snapple Beverage Concentrates and Latin American Beverages, said, “Rather than a first step, this program is yet another example of how the beverage industry is providing meaningful solutions to help reduce obesity. Consumers have told us what they need is information so they can make the right choices for themselves. That’s what this initiative is all about—informed choices, more lower calorie choices and transparent labeling on our products and vending machines.”