Soft Drink Companies May Police Selves in Schools

Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the rest of the soft drink industry are considering a voluntary ban on carbonated soft drinks in elementary and middle schools and restrictions on sales in high schools, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Industry leaders are expected to vote on the issue this week during a conference call of the American Beverage Association’s board, the AJC reported.

The industry has, until now, battled state and local school vending machine restrictions. But under the discussed proposal, the ABA standards would ban soft drinks in elementary and middle schools during the school day and require that at least half the slots in high school vending machines be devoted to healthier drinks, such as water and juice.

Representatives from the ABA and the beverage companies declined to comment about the specifics of the proposal Monday. Coke spokesman Dan Schafer said the Atlanta-based company “would give serious consideration to any industry proposal,” the AJC reported.

It wouldn’t be much of a change, however: soft drink companies, as a general practice, already rarely sell carbonated soft drinks to students in elementary schools. The new proposal would make it official. In middle and high schools, soft drink companies already are selling waters, juices and sports drinks alongside sodas: those drinks are increasingly becoming more popular with young consumers than CSD’s.

Also, school sales don’t represent significant revenue for beverage companies. For Coke, schools make up less than 1 percent of sales in North America.

However, the change would be important from a symbolic standpoint. The industry wants to show parents that it is taking the obesity issue seriously.

In the past, Coke and other beverage companies have resisted restrictions because schools are a good place to market to young consumers and develop long-term brand loyalty. Also, companies don’t want bans that seem to acknowledge that soft drinks are bad for kids or that soft drinks lead to obesity.

In the United States, the issue was a hot topic in state legislatures this year, with 38 states considering school nutrition bills, most of which included a vending machine component. At least 14 laws were enacted.

State legislatures aren’t the only battleground. In New Jersey, the agriculture department enacted regulations banning carbonated soft drink sales in all schools. And some local school districts have restricted sales.