Daily Dispatches
Cans of Coca-Cola.
Associated Press/Photo by Wilfredo Lee
Cans of Coca-Cola.

American soda slump drives high-calorie exports

Health

Whether they call it pop, soda, or coke, Americans are drinking fewer bubbly beverages.

Major soft-drink companies Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo, and Dr Pepper Snapple Group all sold less soda in North America during the second quarter of this year, despite splashy new ads and sweetener mixes aimed at winning back heath-conscious consumers. Coca-Cola said it sold 4 percent less soda, while PepsiCo simply said its soda decline was in the “mid-single digits” even though the company made up the profit-loss with other product sales. Dr Pepper sold 3 percent less of its fizzy drinks.

Coca-Cola blamed the sluggish sales on a cold, wet spring. But the declines continue a years-long trend. According to the industry tracker Beverage Digest, per capita soda consumption in the United States has been slipping steadily since 1998 amid concerns that sugary drinks fuel weight gain.

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The trend “won’t change and will probably get worse without a major breakthrough in new sweeteners,” said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest.

Since child obesity has become a national concern—the USDA banned high-calorie beverages from schools last month—more health-conscious and younger Americans could be driving the slump. Coca-Cola has even taken on the question of obesity head-on in TV commercials, hoping to convince people that physical activity can let them enjoy some guilt-free refreshment.

PepsiCo’s decline for the quarter came despite its stepped-up marketing over the past year—the company signed pop star Beyoncé to appear in its ads and signed a multiyear deal to sponsor the Super Bowl halftime show. The company also introduced a mid-calorie offering called Pepsi Next to win back customers who’ve quit soda because they don’t like the calories in regular drinks and dislike the taste of diet drinks.

Dr Pepper introduced a lineup of 10-calorie sodas, starting with Dr Pepper Ten. The low-calorie offering has added high-fructose corn syrup to lessen the diet soda aftertaste. But the new drinks apparently aren’t convincing enough people to pick up the habit again.

To make up for the declines in the meantime, the industry is relying on bottled waters, teas, sports drinks, and other beverages to boost sales. It’s also looking overseas to emerging markets where middle-class populations are growing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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