It appears the soda bubble has burst. The clamor over the ill effects of soda and sugary beverages is reaching deafening levels lately. The government’s new dietary guidelines, released in January, now explicitly call on consumers to “Drink water instead of sugary drinks.” And restaurants, including Jack in the Box, IHOP, Dairy Queen and Applebee’s are among the latest to announce they’re removing sodas from kids’ menus. Meanwhile, policies are being debated in New York, California and around the world propose to discourage soda consumption through everything from warning labels to higher taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.
While lawmakers duke out the details, foodservice directors are taking matters into their own hands. Whether spurred by administrators hoping a soda ban will shave health care costs or a desire to encourage healthier habits, several operators are trying tactics, subtle or strong, to discourage consumption of sugary beverages in their cafeterias and facilities. Such initiatives stop short of removing sodas altogether, so customers still have the option to buy whatever they want to drink. But operators from schools to hospitals to corporate cafeterias are betting that making them less accessible will make better-for-you drinks more enticing. A roundup of recent tactics:
Executives at travel website TripAdvisor say they’re taking a “stealth health” approach at the cafeteria in their new corporate digs in Boston. When employees reach for a beverage to go with the free lunch offered daily, they are subtly steered toward flavored waters, teas and juices. That’s because these drinks are visible behind clear glass doors in the beverage cooler, while sodas and other sugary beverages are displayed behind frosted glass, The Boston Globe reports.
Hide and seek
Similarly, Google reportedly stashes the sodas for sale at its dining operations on lower shelves of refrigerated cases, also behind frosted glass, while displaying more healthful items prominently. This extends to sweet and salty treats as well, which are stashed out of sight in opaque containers.
Bloomington, Minn.-based HealthPartners, home to more than 22,000 workers, announced that it would eliminate more than 80 percent of sugary drinks, including sodas, at its health care clinics and hospitals in 2016. Diet drinks, juices, coffee and tea still will be on offer, and diners remain free to bring in sodas and other drinks from home, Minneapolis’ Star Tribune reports.
At Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, only diet sodas are offered in the vending machines and water is available for 50 cents to encourage healthier choices, part of a larger wellness initiative at the insurer’s Baton Rouge, La., headquarters.
Food and beverage sold in Florida’s Lee Memorial Health System was partially subsidized for employees. To discourage unhealthy choices, 20-ounce sodas were moved from the cafeteria to the vending machines (which are not subsidized), among other wellness-focused initiatives. Initially, “there was a fair amount of resistance,” says Larry Altier, system director of food and nutrition. “In the last two years or so, there has been growing support for the changes that have been made.”
By the numbers: Pop goes soda
While soda hardly is dead, these stats suggest it is falling flat.
Percentage drop in full-calorie soda sales in the U.S. in the past 20 years
Decline in orders of soda and milk in the past decade
6 in 10
Portion of U.S. adults who say they try to avoid soda, regular or diet
Percentage of consumers ages 18–34 who are satisfied with fountain-beverage offerings at c-stores, compared to 71 of older consumers
Percentage of college students who prefer to drink water with dinner
Percentage of foodservice directors who expect carbonated soft drinks to grow on menus in the next year or two
Amount of excise tax on sugary drinks in Berkeley, Calif., the first city in the U.S. to levy such a charge
Sources: Technomic; The New York Times; The NPD Group; Gallup; FSD