- Researchers found during a three-year community campaign in Howard County, Maryland, to decrease the consumption of all sugary beverages that regular supermarket soda sales fell 19.7%, fruit drinks declined 15.3% and juices decreased by 15%, according to The JAMA Network.
- The observational experiment included a control group of 15 Howard County supermarkets and 17 comparison supermarkets. During the period, regular soda sales grew 0.8% in the comparison supermarkets.
- The campaign message was shared through television advertising, digital marketing, direct mail, outdoor advertising and social media from 2012 to 2015, creating 17 million impressions. Community members also shaped public policy that encouraged consumption of healthy beverages in schools, child care, health care and government settings.
Dwindling consumer interest in soda isn't a new phenomenon, but this study provides fresh evidence that Philadelphia's plummeting beverage sales aren't an isolated incident.
After the Pennsylvania city enacted a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages, sales in some local grocery stores dropped as much as 50%, prompting soda manufacturers to layoff employees. Canada Dry Delaware Valley, which distributes about 20% of Philadelphia's soft drinks, announced it would layoff about 20% of its employees in March. PepsiCo Inc. also announced it would lay off 80 to 100 workers after sales declined by 40% following the tax.
These taxes have only cropped up in a few cities so far, but as consumer distrust of sugar, alternative sweeteners and Big Soda grows, it's only a matter of time before this kind of legislation spreads. Even though this is bad news for soda makers, not all cities have taken hits as dramatic as Philadelphia and Howard County. Berkeley, California began a one-cent-per-ounce tax in 2015, but so far it hasn't reported industry job cuts as a result of sales declines.
The American Beverage Association has spent millions of dollars to fight soda taxes like these, but its efforts have proven futile so far. The soda industry will need to invest in new strategies to fight the next wave of taxes being considered in Seattle, Santa Fe, among other cities, which are likely to come sooner rather than later.