How Marketers Are Preparing for NYC Soda Ban

Marketers Taking Different Approaches; Some Play Waiting Game

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As the implementation date for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ban on large sugary beverages draws near, marketers are reacting in many ways.

Dunkin' Donuts was proactive last week in letting customers know changes are coming as of March 12, when the ban goes into effect. The chain began posting signs and handing out fliers in stores that informed customers they would have to add their own sugar and "flavor swirl" to large and extra-large hot beverages, as well as medium and large iced beverages. Large sizes of hot chocolate and Dunkaccino have been eliminated, while frozen beverages are only available in resized small and medium sizes.

Other marketers were planning changes but not actively promoting them. An employee at a Five Guys restaurant said large cups would disappear by March 12, while McDonald's will begin asking customers to add their own sugar to coffee. But many at city establishments covered by the ban still seemed confused. In a midtown deli, for example, 32-ounce sweetened teas and 20-ounce sodas were still being stocked on March 7, and an employee wasn't sure whether that would change in the coming days.

Other marketers are taking a wait-and-see approach, given the court has yet to rule on a lawsuit seeking to have the ban struck down. The suit was filed by a consortium including the American Beverage Association, the National Restaurant Association, the National Association of Theatre Owners and others. A few weeks ago, the same group requested a stay.

Linda Mills, a spokeswoman for Starbucks, said the company won't be making any changes when the ban goes into effect. "There are a lot of unanswered questions, because of the pending litigation," she said, adding that the company believes most of its beverages will fall outside of the ban. When specifically asked about Frappuccinos, which contain as much as 69 grams of sugar per 16-ounce serving, Ms. Mills explained that 60% of the beverage is ice, and excluding ice it is considered dairy-based, making it exempt from the ban.

The ban prohibits restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas and street carts under the purview of the city -- anything that receives a letter grade -- from serving large sugary beverages. It does not apply to alcohol, juices or dairy-based beverages or any drinks with fewer than 25 calories per 8-ounce serving, such as diet sodas and unsweetened iced tea. "Large" is designated as any container holding more than 16 ounces.

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