Coca-Cola has pledged to offer low- or no- calorie beverage options in every market following criticism that it is still aggressively promoting full-sugar products in emerging markets while offering healthier options at home.
The firm - which was recently targeted in a hard-hitting video by the Center for Science in the Public Interest featuring diabetic bears guzzling soda - has also committed to adding calorie labeling to all packages and supporting physical activity programs in every country in which it operates.
Finally, it will not advertise to children under 12 anywhere in the world.
The aim is to offer low-calorie or diet options wherever regular versions are sold, although they may not necessarily be the same brand.
For example, if a store sells Sprite it might also offer Coke Zero, said CEO Muhtar Kent, who told analysts on a recent earnings call that he was “personally committed” to leveraging Coke’s resources to tackle the global obesity crisis.
He said: “We are committed to being part of the solution, working closely with partners from business, government and civil society. Today’s announcement is another step forward on our journey, as we take action with scale and reach across every country and continent where we operate.”
Asked what its timetable was for offering low/no calorie options in every market, a spokeswoman did not give a specific deadline, but added: "Each commitment will be measured against a standard set of metrics that must be met by our entire Coca-Cola System. We are inviting the public to learn more and track our progress at ComingTogether.com ."
While much of Coca-Cola’s growth is still coming from sales of full-sugar soda (worldwide volumes of Coca-Cola were up 3% in FY 2012), volumes of still beverages such as Powerade, and ready to drink teas are growing much faster (+10% in FY 2012).
In the North American market, volumes of zero-calorie beverage Coke Zero grew in the high single digits for the full year, while overall sparkling beverage volumes declined 1%, reflecting a continuing shift towards zero-calorie sodas.
Sugary drinks and obesity
Meanwhile, the role that sugary beverages have played in the global obesity epidemic remains a topic of considerable controversy.
A March 2011 paper published in Public Health Nutrition entitled ‘To what extent have sweetened beverages contributed to the obesity epidemic? ’ concluded that “obesity rates and sweetened beverage intake have increased in tandem in the USA".
The authors also found that “energy in liquid form is not well compensated for by reductions in the intake of other sources of energy” and estimated that “sweetened beverages account for at least one-fifth of the weight gained between 1977 and 2007 in the US population”.
However, the American Beverage Association (ABA) says that average calories per serving from beverages have dropped 23% since 1998 and that sales of full-calorie soda dropped 12.5% between 1999 and 2010.
It also points to a 2011 study entitled ‘Consumption of added sugars is decreasing in the United States’ published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which concluded that the number of calories in the American diet from added sugars in soda has fallen 39% since 2000.
Click here to watch a video outlining the CSPI's response to Coke's Coming Together ads.