Consumer Preference Trumps Soda Taxes

Consumer preference is accomplishing something that activists have had a tough time doing through legislation and regulation. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg may have lost in court on the Big Gulp ban, but consumers are getting the message and carrying it forward anyway. Industry observers say that bottled water sales will soon surpass soda. Sugary soda in particular is declining.

Between 1998 and 2012, soda consumption dropped from 54 gallons annually per capita to 44 gallons. Water consumption grew 38% over the same time to 58 gallons. And bottled water nearly doubled to 21 gallons.

Sensing a wave of popular culture to ride, first lady Michelle Obama is promoting water as “an easy choice to improve health and well-being every day” that “helps you have more energy to do more, longer and with better focus.” Who needs a marketing department?

Proving that nothing is simple, both conservative and liberal critics have stepped forward to take issue with the first lady. Some worry about packaging waste. Others cast Obama as the chief nanny in an oppressive nanny state. We’re sure they’ll sort it out.

Coke and Pepsi are coming along for the ride, too. Last week, Coke introduced its first sparkling waters under the Dasani brand in four flavors. Pepsi will launch a premium water brand, OM, later this year.

But it’s not easy for them to compete in this space. Vitaminwater by Coke and SoBe Lifewater by Pepsi have dropped sharply as other players have innovated and taken share from them.

As successful as the beverage industry has been in resisting taxes and restrictions on sugary drinks, they can’t really fight their customers. Whether they like it or not, the sugary water business seems doomed by consumer preference.

Click here to read more in the New York Times and here to read more in the LA Times.

Water Tongues, photograph © wabisabi2015 / flickr

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