Since Cook County’s Board of Commissioners voted earlier this month to repeal an unpopular beverage tax, there has been a lot of talk in the press about which side has momentum, or is “winning” or “losing” the debate over these taxes in our country.  While, yes, America’s beverage companies and our Cook County retail partners were pleased with this decision, we do not view this debate as win or lose. Instead we think consumers are best served when our member companies, governments and public health organizations work together to fight obesity by helping people consume less sugar.

Our industry has already evolved over the last decade to keep up with Americans’ changing tastes and provide beverage options with less sugar and fewer calories. Since 2000, Americans have reduced their consumption of sugar from carbonated soft drinks by 31 percent per person, per day.

In part that progress is a result of the ever-expanding choices of beverages our industry is adding from enhanced waters to ready-to-drink teas and coffees to juices and dairy. In fact, 48 percent of all non-alcoholic beverages purchased today have no sugar, and 60 percent of new brands and flavors hitting the market are low- or no-calorie drinks.

Still, another portion of that reduction is the result of our collective efforts to reduce portion sizes and introduce smaller, more convenient packages with less sugar. Sales of these smaller packages of Pepsi, Coke and Dr. Pepper, among other brands, are consistently growing.

But even with this progress we’re not stopping. We know it’s not enough to just offer new beverage options – we also need to ensure people know about them and are able to access them.

In 2014, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the ABA and the nation’s top beverage companies announced a new partnership called the Balance Calories Initiative to encourage consumer interest in, and improve access to, lower and no-calorie beverage options. This initiative puts aside the competitive differences of our member companies and unites The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group in a collective effort to reduce the calories and sugar people consume from beverages nationally by 20 percent by 2025.  The Alliance for Healthier Generation is monitoring our progress along the way using independent evaluators.

We recognize this is a bold goal, but an important one, so we are using our resources to guide consumers toward beverages with less sugar. We’re tapping our strengths in marketing, innovation and distribution to encourage people looking to manage their consumption of added sugars to try lower-calorie options. For example, the beverage companies have even used one of their biggest and most costly marketing platforms – the Super Bowl -- to promote brands or packages with less sugar.

We’re also conducting intense efforts in communities facing the greatest challenges with obesity, including East Los Angeles, the Mississippi Delta, the Bronx and rural Alabama as part of the single-largest voluntary effort by an industry to combat obesity. We’re working with community groups to learn what works in these markets so we can apply it elsewhere. This is a significant effort and we are learning a lot about what it takes to support real change that helps consumers reduce their sugar from beverages.

While there are some who see beverage taxes as the “silver bullet” to fight obesity and fund local governments, we strongly believe we will show that there are better ways to achieve these goals that do not hurt local businesses and everyday consumers. We believe our combined product and marketing efforts can be more effective at reducing the sugar people drink over the long term - and will bring about lasting change. 

We recognize that the task ahead of us is not easy.  But if fierce competitors like Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper can work together, then surely we can find a way to partner with members of the public health community who also want meaningful solutions to obesity. 

Susan Neely, President & CEO
American Beverage Association