How Retailers Can Handle the Soda Controversy

January 05, 2017

Coca-Cola is being sued by health advocates for misleading consumers. Can retailers help their shoppers sift through the controversy?

It seems as if life for soda just keeps getting worse. Slumping sales, consumers replacing their Coke and Pepsi habits with alternative beverages, warnings against sugar, soda taxes, and lawsuits. Last March, Fortune reported that overall soda consumption had dropped for the 11th consecutive year. And if you live in Philadelphia, buying a sugary beverage can cost you more than double now. 

In today’s news, a lawsuit has been filed against Coca-Cola for misrepresenting to consumers the health implications of their products. Filed in a federal court in Oakland, CA, the lawsuit has been initiated by The Praxis Project (an organization that positions itself as on a mission to “achieve health justice for all communities”) along with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Remember last month when the media widely reported on the backlash from health advocate groups when a sugar study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that questioned the quality of science used to make sugar consumption recommendations by public health officials? Specifically targeted guidelines were those of the World Health Organization and U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The backlash came as a reaction to the significant difference in opinion on how much sugar is okay to consume, particularly considering the high rates of obesity and diabetes, but also because the study was funded by a trade group with board members from some major food and beverage companies, including Coca-Cola. Not exactly great public relations for the soda company already losing sales to consumers that are moving away from sugary drinks and also looking for more transparency in the brands they choose and trust. 

However, in this particular lawsuit, what The Praxis Project is demanding is a change in how the company markets their products, claiming the use of words like “balance” and phrases such as “calories in, calories out” are misleading consumers into believing their products can actually be a part of a healthy diet, and in particular, these marketing tactics are taking a toll on African-American and Latino communities where current predictions say half of all children from both races will develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. That is a major health dilemma for the country, economically and ethically. 

What is a retailers role in this controversy? The truth. Facts. Commitment to your shoppers first and foremost. And that can be achieved by simply offering up the best un-biased information as well as alternatives. This is a situation where your store retail dietitians can be useful in guiding consumers. Offering workshops on sugar intake (in the store and through your website), not for the mission of swaying shoppers to purchase any type of product, but to offer up real ways to “balance” sugar intake with proper nutrition. Education is key, and your shoppers will appreciate the help.

Soda has been a long time part of American culture and probably isn’t going away anytime soon, but as a country facing a major health crisis, some sugar guidelines are necessary to help Americans make informed decisions. Shoppers can benefit from solid science and alternatives without having to completely give up something indulgent that tastes great once in a while. And remember what a great resource your store's retail dietians can be, and refer shoppers to them when they have questions.