Soda companies rapped for allegedly targeting low and middle income countries

CSPI report dresses down the beverage industry, but the International Council of Beverages Associations claims its members are behaving responsibly

The soda industry has vigorously defended itself against claims it is “borrowing a page from the tobacco industry playbook” by trying to spread its products in low- and middle-income countries.

"Carbonating the World,” a report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit focusing on nutrition, food safety and health, claimed big beverage companies, such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, are spending billions of dollars in countries such as Mexico, China and India. They are building bottling plants, advertising and creating distribution networks to spread their footprint and prominence in these emerging markets, the report said.

Industry response 

The International Council of Beverages Associations told BeverageDaily that the beverage companies it represents are "good global citizens who follow responsible marketing practices". It said in a statement that CSPI's report ignores the economic importance of jobs and investments these companies bring to people worldwide. It said people across the world enjoy these drinks and have the right to decide what is best for them. 

"Our member companies are all about delivering for their employees, customers, consumers and communities – and will continue to deliver on their commitment to responsible marketing, just as they remain committed to providing consumers with a variety of options and empowering them with the information they need to make informed choices," the statement said. 

Mexico's growing obesity rates

CSPI's report said: “The effects of intensive marketing of sugar drinks may best be seen in Mexico...That country is one of the biggest consumers of those drinks and has some of the highest rates of obesity in the world. The Mexican government is seeking to reverse that health crisis by imposing a modest excise tax on sugar drinks (and a sales tax on snack foods), with industry fighting back vigorously.”

The report was written by Allyn Taylor from the University of Washington School of Law and CSPI’s executive director and founder Michael Jacobson.

Read the report in full here.

Consumption, spending in emerging markets on the rise

Both consumption, and spending by large companies, is on the rise, according to the CSPI report. In 2008, emerging markets consumed just more than half of the volume of soft drinks across the world, according to numbers cited from Euromonitor. In 2018, it is believed emerging markets will consume nearly 70% of the world’s soft drinks.

The reported cited investments Coca-Cola has made across the world, including $4bn in China between 2015 and 2017, $17bn in Africa between 2010 and 2020 and $12.4bn in Mexico over that same time period. Jacobson compared this to what cigarette companies had to do when sales sagged in the US.

“The soda industry is finding that the same strategies work to sell soda,” Jacobson said in a statement. “These are countries with growing populations, growing incomes, and with governments less likely to pursue aggressive strategies to deter consumption.”

Suggestions on dealing with sugar sweetened beverages

CSPI’s report made a number of suggestions for what countries, the World Health Organization, and beverage companies should do in response to this report.

Taylor and Jacobson suggested countries make improved nutrition a top priority, restrict sugar content of beverages to about a fourth of the current level, levy taxes on drinks to boost their price by 10% to 20% and barring advertising to children, among other measures.

For the WHO, the report suggests holding training at regional offices to help countries strengthen training to discourage consumption of sugary beverages, provide toolkits for countries to reduce the consumption of these drinks, and establish a global database of laws and regulations countries have adopted to prevent consumption of sugary drinks and sodas.

The report said beverage companies should reduce container sizes, reduce the calorie content of drinks to no more than 40 calories per 12 oz, stop marketing to children under 12, and acknowledge that heavy consumption of their full-calorie products add to health problems.

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