The nation's largest soda marketers -- which have been feeling the heat from health advocates -- on Tuesday pledged to reduce beverage calories consumed per person nationally by 20% by 2025.
Executives from PepsiCo, Coca-Cola Co. and Dr Pepper Snapple group announced the goal in New York City at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. The effort includes involvement from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which was founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation.
"I am excited about the potential of this voluntary commitment by the beverage industry. It can be a critical step in our ongoing fight against obesity," former President Bill Clinton said, according to a statement.
Marketing could play a key role in the effort, with the beverage companies saying in a statement that they will "engage in consumer education and outreach efforts to increase consumer awareness of and interest in the wide array of no- and lower-calorie beverages and smaller portion sizes available."
Also, the beverage companies stated they would put special emphasis on communities where access to lower-calorie beverages is lacking. Moves could include only featuring reduced-calorie beverages at highly trafficked store sections, such as checkout displays. Communities in Los Angeles and Little Rock, Ark., are expected to be the first places where these targeted efforts will occur.
Also, the companies pledged to provide calorie counts and "promote calorie awareness" on all "beverage company-controlled point-of-sale equipment nationwide, including more than 3 million vending machines, self-serve fountain dispensers, and retail coolers in convenience stores, restaurants and other locations."
The announcement comes as soda marketers battle declining consumption that is due in part to health concerns. As a result, calories consumed in beverages are already falling. Beverage Digest estimated in a report today that total beverage calories consumed was down by about 12.4% between 2000 and 2013, and down by about 23% for carbonated soft drinks.
"If declines were to continue over the next 10 years, those declines, themselves, would bring the consumed-from-beverage calorie level down," Beverage Digest stated in a report today. But the publication noted that beverage executives expect "modest" future growth. "So paradoxically, if volume and consumption of the industry's beverages grow -- if consumers are drinking more of the industry's products -- achieving the calorie reductions would be harder and would require more intense focus on the initiatives," Beverage Digest stated.
Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a health advocacy group, praised the effort, saying in a statement that "we are especially pleased that this commitment will target communities with disproportionately high consumption rates of sugar-sweetened beverages."
But the Center for Science in the Public Interest called for more action. "The industry could accelerate progress by dropping its opposition to taxes and warning labels on sugar drinks," CSPI said in a statement. "Those taxes could further reduce calories in America's beverage mix even more quickly, and would raise needed revenue for the prevention and treatment of soda-related diseases."
The beverage companies pledged to "retain an independent, third-party evaluator … to track progress and interim benchmarks" of their commitments.