ABA’s calorie labeling plan earns critic kudos

The American Beverage Association announced plans Tuesday to simplify calorie information and make it more accessible, attracting the praise of one of its most vocal critics.

“I don’t often find myself in the position of saluting this industry, but, in this case, I think they’ve done well,” said Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale. One of the leading voices encouraging taxation on sugared beverages, Brownell said a tax is still “absolutely necessary,” but added that the ABA’s plan – which would increase the standard serving size from eight to 12 ounces and put full-package calorie information on the front of single-serve containers – should help consumers make more informed decisions. The program will also extend calorie information to vending machines and soda fountains controlled by beverage firms.

The first packages bearing the new labels should hit shelves as soon as this summer, with the full roll-out to be completed by the end of 2012, said ABA president and CEO Susan Neely. Some details have yet to be finalized, however: participating companies have yet to agree on a standard label, and the FDA has not yet approved the proposed new standard serving size.

Currently, the program includes PepsiCo, Inc., The Coca-Cola Co., Inc. Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Nestle Waters North America and Sunny Delight Beverage Co., but Neely said it will be open to non-ABA beverage firms.

Smaller firms may be smart to adapt the label, according to Brownell, who said that brands that don’t put their calories up front may find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.