‘Darkening’ the soft drinks market
I pricked up my ears at news of the recent launch of the global ‘Dump Soda’ campaign – whose ambitions are pretty much as stated on the can, as it were. The reason: a few years ago my colleague Rachel Kelnar and I wrote some scenarios on the impact of obesity on the food and drink production sector, and suggested that one almost certain outcome was that the markets would get increasingly ‘dark’ – marketing restrictions would tighten – because of public pressure. (The full paper can be found on my Selected Articles page),
The campaign was launched at the end of October in Sydney by a US advocacy group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which does a lot of work around food and food companies, and a confederation, the International Association of Consumer Food Organizations, which has members in 12 countries across the world.
Its target is increased government regulation of soft drink companies, and it has six demands, which are worth summarising. Governments should ensure:
- Increased promotion of new lower-sugar products, and support for independently funded research on safe substitute sweeteners.
- End all marketing of ‘sugar laden’ beverages to under-16s
- A comprehensive labelling system showing calorie content, nutritional warnings, and consumer alerts (such as, “High sugar – drink only occasionally”)
- Stop promoting any sweetened beverages in schools
- Pay a ‘modest’ added tax to be used to fund nutritional research and subsidise fruit consumption
- Put limits on beverage sponsorship programmes.
A couple of relevant things about the campaign; it has health evidence coming out of its ears, so it’s likely to catch the attention of governments. And it’s at least as concerned by the way in which the soft drink companies have responded to falling sales in richer markets by shifting promotion and marketing to poorer countries (they could be said to be following the template of the tobacco companies, and largely successfully), as it is by health impacts in richer countries.
Their presentation – but not the web site – suggests some channels for consumer activism. They include things like organising a “No soft drinks week”, pressuring children’s magazines to stop accepting soft drinks ads, supporting their schools campaigns, and asking stores to remove soft-drinks-related marketing from public display.
In the obesity scenarios we asked whether food and drinks which were likely to have adverse health effects would in future be more like tobacco (closed down slowly) or alcohol (tolerated but within increasingly strict limits). So far it looks more like the latter. But maybe consumers won’t have the last word here. I heard last week that a well-known crisps manufacturer in the UK was having problems recruiting, at least at graduate level, because people didn’t really want to work for them. I mean: what do you tell your friends? And how cool would it look on Facebook?
There’s a summary of the story at the Worldwatch Institute.