Causes Meet Corporate Thrice Over for Coca-Cola Co.

Talk about piling on. During the same week that the New York City Board of Health passed its ban on serving jumbo sodas, a pair of developments in two other closely watched social and environmental causes are affecting the Coca-Cola Co., including calorie counts in fast food chains and a battle over Genetically Modified Organisms.

First, McDonald’s announced that the fast-food company — one that’s long been brothers-in-arms with Coca-Cola, which is sold in more than 31,000 McDonald’s stores worldwide and is the primary provider of the 5 percent of revenues that come from its soft drink sales — was putting calorie counts on the menus of about 14,000 of its U.S. stores. That’s about a year ahead of a federal regulation requiring large franchise restaurant chains to post calorie counts. It turns out that’s something that the soda giant took in stride.

“We support McDonald’s efforts to provide consumers with the information they need to make balanced choices,” noted Coke representative Kirsten Witt Wibb via e-mail. “In fact, Coca-Cola has collaborated with our industry and with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative to put calorie information on the front of nearly every bottle and can. We offer more than 180 low- and no-calorie beverage options and we support many programs like Triple Play with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America that help people lead active, healthy lives. You can find out more by going to or let me know if any of these points are of interest and I can send more detail.”

Next, Coke was one of a bunch of large food companies who were called on the carpet by a New York Times article that indicated that, while they might be the middle of efforts supported by a group of food companies to fight California Prop. 37, which would require that food products made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) be labeled as such, many of the organic companies they are proud to own — like Honest Tea, for example — are support that labeling requirement wholeheartedly.

Coke referred questions about Prop. 37 to the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA).BevNET hasn’t heard back from that group.

As for Honest Tea, Seth Goldman, the company’s co-founder and “TeaEO,” blogged recently on the company’s web site that the potential conflict was all a part of being part of a corporate ecosystem, likening the issue to having a brother with differing political views.

“Does the analogy of family members coexisting despite a diversity of viewpoints extend to a large corporation?” he wrote in the blog. ” In many ways it does. I’ve learned a lot from my brother over the years, from soccer to wrestling to tax preparation. And I’d like to think that a few of my beliefs have rubbed off on him.”

But the irony wasn’t lost on Goldman, either.

“That’s a funny situation, there,” he told BevNET.

While the vote in California affects a large number of food manufacturers who have acquired organic or proudly non-GMO companies, the Bloomberg administration-backed ban on large servings of sugar-sweetened beverage products in many venues may serve to strike Coke in another tough spot, right at the Freestyle Fountain. The company’s highly-touted Freestyle dispensers may have their New York presence curtailed by the ruling, as sizes larger than 16 oz. would be verboten in many accounts.

BevNET asked Coke’s communications department about the status of the Freestyle Machine rollout in New York, but as of the time of publication of this piece, we hadn’t heard back. Understandably. After this week, were we in their shoes, we’d be looking for the “Bourbon” switch.