Soda sales continued to hit the skids in the U.S., according to data released yesterday by Beverage Digest, with overall sales declining 3% last year, and leading no-cal brands with artificial sweeteners slipping at more than twice that rate. Meanwhile, a widely reported new study that suggests that diet soda may “hurt the heart,” as a CBSnews.com hed put it, came under attack as junk science exacerbated by ignorant headline writers.
“The beverage industry is getting more and more challenging in the U.S. The obesity and health and wellness headwinds are not letting up,” said Beverage Digest editor John Sicher.
“Total liquid refreshment beverages (LRBs), which had grown modestly in recent years, were down last year,” according to Beverage Digest’s “Special Issue: U.S. Beverage Results for 2013.” LRB volume was -1.6% compared to +1% in 2012 and +0.8% in 2011. Carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) were -1.2% in 2012 and -1% in 2011.
“At least some consumers seem to be shying away from the legacy diet sweeteners, according to sources,” the report continues. “Last year, in this all-channel data, brand Coke [-0.5%] way out-performed Diet Coke [-6.8%]. Brand Pepsi [-3.6% ] out-performed Diet Pepsi [-6.9%]. Mountain Dew out-performed Diet Mountain Dew. And Dr Pepper out-performed Diet Dr Pepper.”
“A growing number of Americans are worried that aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are unhealthy, despite decades of studies by the Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies having found them to be safe. There is also a debate over how diet drinks might affect metabolism,” observes Mike Esterl in the Wall Street Journal.
This is all “despite the efforts of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Snapple Group to market lower-calorie sodas, like Pepsi Next and Dr Pepper Ten, as well as a variety of packaging options such as smaller cans,” writes Natalie Zmuda in Advertising Age. “Two years ago, PepsiCo committed to spending an additional $500 million to $600 million on its core brands, of which Pepsi is one. More recently, Coca-Cola committed to spending an additional $1 billion on media and brand-building efforts by 2016.”
“Coca-Cola and PepsiCo both make an array of other beverages, including bottled water, orange juice and sports drinks,” points out the AP’s Candace Choi on Philly.com. “But sodas still account for a large and lucrative portion of their businesses.”
A Coca-Cola spokesman tells Choi the company was “committed to returning our overall sparkling business to growth in the U.S.” A PepsiCo spokesman noted his company’s lead in categories such as sports drinks (Gatorade) and bottled teas (Lipton).
Tallying the results of all the skirmishes and battles, Coca-Cola out-performed PepsiCo in both CSDs and LRBs in the Cola Wars, Beverage Digest reports. “Coke's LRB volume was down -1.1% vs PepsiCo down -3.4%. In CSDs, Coke's volume was down -2.2%. PepsiCo's rate of decline was double that: down -4.4%. Coke also out-performed Dr Pepper Snapple in both CSDs and LRBs.”
The only top soda brand that had sales gains last year was Coca-Cola’s Sprite, Reuters’ Phil Wahba reports. Energy drinks such as Red Bull and Monster Beverage’s products also fared well, with Monster's volume up 7.7% in 2013, he points out.
In what could be a heaping spoonful of bad news for the industry going forward, a study released at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Washington, D.C., found that “women who are heavy consumers of diet drinks might be more likely to experience heart attacks, dangerous blood clots and other cardiovascular problems than those who rarely or never consume artificially sweetened beverages,” HealthDay Brenda Goodman reports. “The findings come from a study of nearly 60,000 healthy postmenopausal women in the United States.”
Jeffrey Kuvin, a cardiologist at Tufts Medical Center and vice-chair of the program committee for the American College of Cardiology meeting, “called the results provocative but not yet convincing enough to drive change,” reports Crystal Phend in MedPageToday.com
“We know pretty well that non-diet drinks, or sweetened beverages, are associated with weight gain, diabetes, and coronary heart disease,” Kuvin said. “I'm not ready just yet to give up my diet soft drinks,” he added. “But if the data continue to be as compelling, I think all of us should take a close look and see why this might be. Is it the caffeine? Is it the sweetener? Is it what goes along with it?”
“Buried at the bottom of the article is what is really going on: The women who drank more diet soda were less healthy to begin with. They were more likely to be overweight, to smoke, and to have high blood pressure than the other group,” he writes.
“So, let's correct the headline a bit: ‘Sick People are More Likely to Die.’ Accurate headline, but it won't sell many papers.”