Coke Takes Its Anti-Obesity Initiative On The Road

Coca-Cola is going all-in, and all-over, with the global anti-obesity initiative it launched with a fair amount of criticism earlier this year. It says it will put calorie counts on the front labels of all of its products in every country they are sold (which is everywhere save Cuba and North Korea), will cease advertising globally in media where kids under 12 constitute more than 35% of the audience, will offer a greater selection of low- and no-calorie beverages in all markets and intends to promote “effective active lifestyle program” –- a.k.a. exercise -- as an antidote to the global health crises.

“There is a place for all of our beverages in a healthy lifestyle,” according to CEO Muhtar Kent, who spoke in a conference call with reporters around the world. “We want to be part of the solution," he said in an interview with Charlie Rose and Norah O’Donnell on “CBS Morning News.” "This isn't about one category, one food, one product; the whole food industry needs to also come in and partner with the governments, with the civil society," he maintained.



Emerging global markets “represent an enormous opportunity” for the company, according to the AP’s Candice Choi. “For example, Coca-Cola has noted that Americans on average drink 403 servings of its various beverages a year. That compares with just 12 servings per year in India and 38 in China,” writes Choi. “As more people head to cities and see their incomes increase, they’re more prone to eating convenient packaged foods,” she points out.

The company is trying to get ahead of potential regulatory pushes in those fertile lands, Bernstein analyst Ali Dibadj tells the Financial Times’ Shannon Bond. Besides efforts by local municipalities in the U.S. to limit consumption of foods deemed unhealthy, Dibadj says consumers here are “self-regulating,” forcing soda companies -- like the sometimes-one-and-the-same snack food purveyors -- to look to overseas markets to expand sales. And that means being proactive.

“If they get painted with this bad-guy brush, I’m not convinced they have the support of the local communities and the local governments that they really need for all the local distribution, manufacturing and buy-in to grow the business,” Dibadj adds. 

Edward Jones & Co. analyst Jack Russo agrees, telling Bloomberg’s Duane D. Stanford: “People in these countries are going to be aware of these health issues so Coke wants to be prepared. The regulators and governments are going to get more involved with this entire issue.”

Coca-Cola says about a third it sales in North America are from low- and zero-calorie drinks, including Diet Coke and Coke Zero, but that such drinks aren’t as widely distributed in other parts of the world, Mike Esterl and Paul Ziobro report in the Wall Street Journal. “In Latin America, for instance, such drinks only make up 18% of company volumes,” they write.

“The key here is to ensure that in every market where we operate to have no- or low-calorie beverages of our main brands available,” Kent said during the conference call. “We do not have that consistently across the world today.”

Coca-Cola “has often said in the U.S. that it does not buy advertising directly targeting” kids, under 12, as Tiffany Hsu writes in the Los Angeles Times, “but now appears to have expanded the policy globally. Commercials on television, radio, print, the Internet and mobile phones are all affected.”

Tam Fry, a spokesman for the U.K.’s National Obesity Forum “welcomed Coca-Cola's plans, particularly on calorie labeling,” writes The Guardian’s David Batty. “It's Coke becoming more and more responsible because consumers are becoming more and more vociferous about health concerns,” says Fry.

But the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has been a a nettle in the side of many a Coke CEO, predictably “ wasn't impressed” by Kent’s pronouncements yesterday, writes MSNMoney’s Jonathan Berr.

“Coca-Cola's campaign is a campaign to sell more Coca-Cola, and not a campaign to combat obesity," CSPI spokesman Jeff Cronin tells Berr in an email. "Coke's main problem is that its core product causes obesity, diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay, gout, and other health problems. Those problems can't be advertised away.”

I don’t know. They may be a bit hefty, but who ever heard of a polar bear with gout? And those dang critters are so convivial and low key, who could ever claim that Coke doesn’t tell it exactly like it is?

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