Coca-Cola president: ‘I don’t see sugar going away’

By Hal Conick contact

- Last updated on GMT

Coca-Cola's COO believes sugar is here to stay.
Coca-Cola's COO believes sugar is here to stay.

Related tags: Obesity, Coca-cola

The president and chief operating officer of the Coca-Cola Company says sugar will not be ‘going away’ as an ingredient, despite obesity and diabetes concerns.

“I don’t see sugar going away,”​ said James Quincey, Coca-Cola’s president and COO, during a Monday session of Beverage Digest Future Smarts, which took place in New York City.

Consumption of sugar is the same now as it was 40 years ago and ingredients don’t disappear overnight, Quincey said.

But the obesity epidemic weighs heavily over the sugar issue, and Quincey said there does need to be more done by the industry to help address this, such as the creation of more variety in packaging and products.

A poor representation

Coca-Cola came under fire earlier this year for funding research that critics said shifted the blame for obesity away from bad diets.​ 

When asked about the controversy, Quincey said this isn’t what the company represents.

“We’re not a business that wants to operate in the shadows,”​ Quincey said. “We’re in favor of the facts … There are more people obese than undernourished. We’ve gone past the point of peak calories.”

The number of calories will have to dissipate, he said, whether through a stated reduction by certain companies or increased moderation by consumers.

Soda tax is ‘discriminatory’

Quincey does not believe soda taxes are the answer. These taxes have been implemented in certain cities across the US, Mexico, and are now being discussed in India, among other places, but Quincey said he does not think it is a good idea to have any “discriminatory taxes”.

Obesity is a crisis, he said, but believes these taxes are governments chasing “convenient revenue”.

However, he said there is a need Coca-Cola and other food and beverage manufacturers to come to the table to figure out a solution and “reshape choice” ​for consumers.

Aspartame ‘not a permanent crisis’

Regarding the US public’s current distaste for aspartame, Quincey said there will be no reformulation of the company’s diet products.

“They are what they are,”​ he said. “This is not a permanent crisis. The cycle of demonizing ingredients based on dodgy science happens every now and again. What’s happening in the US on aspartame--happened in Scandinavia, happened in Europe, happened in France. With a multi-year lack of confidence, science eventually wins out.”

Aspartame is the most tested ingredient in history, he said, and the trouble it is having is currently localized to the US.

“The growth of lights and zeroes is a positive trend,”​ he said, referring to diet drinks. “Now I’m on record saying the aspartame thing will abate … People lose confidence in things. The easiest thing to do when you lose confidence in something is not to [consume] it.”

No matter what the perception is over time, Quincey believes consumers will come back to Coca-Cola over the years due to name recognition.

“This is an industry with legs; it’s not an industry without its challenges,”​ he said.

Quincey added that consumers still want to spend money on products, “we just have to find ways to help them spend their money.”​ This may mean helping expand choices of products with reduced sugar and will almost certainly mean lessening the environmental footprint by becoming more sustainable, he said.

“We will have to accept that if we desire to continue growth, we have to [minimize our footprint],”​ he said.

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