U.S. soft drink companies led by Coca-Cola Co. (KO:US) and PepsiCo Inc. (PEP:US) have agreed to put calorie counts on vending machines and encourage low-calorie drinks as sugary beverages come under increasing scrutiny.
Starting in 2013, vending machines in government buildings in Chicago and San Antonio will advise consumers to “Check then Choose” and “Try a Low-Calorie Beverage,” according to a statement today by the American Beverage Association, the industry’s chief trade group. The companies, including Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. (DPS:US), will then expand the plan nationally.
Amid rising obesity rates, lawmakers have proposed taxing sugary drinks in more than 30 states to curb consumption, an initiative that has foundered after resistance from the soda lobby. That prompted New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city’s health board to ban the sale of super-size sugared drinks in some locations. U.S. soft drink sales have declined for seven straight years amid lower demand for full-calorie colas as consumers turn to healthier options.
“It’s the next step in the evolution of public disclosure,” said Thomas Mullarkey, a Chicago-based analyst for Morningstar Inc (MORN:US), citing past advances such as nutrition labels and front-of-package calorie citations. “It helps consumers while appeasing political powers and regulators, so soft drink companies are seen as encouraging healthy decisions.”
Under the plan announced today, soft-drink makers will increase availability of lower-calorie drinks in vending machines, display messages such as “Calories Count” and add calorie labels on selection buttons, according to the ABA. The companies will work with owners of vending machines, including independent distributors and food service operators, to make the changes.
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