Americans Are Ditching Soda in Droves, but Here’s Why Bottlers Aren’t Worried

Even though a Gallup poll reveals that U.S. residents are steering clear of the sweetened drinks, global sales are boosting beverage companies’ bottom line.

(Photo: Ulrich Baumgarten/Getty Images)

Aug 5, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Maybe those horrifying pictures comparing the teeth of meth addicts with those of folks who drink soda are having an effect on the American public. Or perhaps it’s a greater awareness of the harmful effects of sugar and artificial sweeteners on the human body. Whatever it is, Americans appear to be kissing their soda habit good-bye.

That’s one of the key findings in Gallup’s annual "Consumption Habits" poll. The research and data company asked a random sample of 1,009 Americans about their eating habits—what they are including or banning from their diet. It turns out that soda—not gluten, meat, carbs, fat, or salt—is the No. 1 food item that Americans are actively trying to avoid.

According to the poll results, 61 percent of U.S. residents are avoiding regular soda, and 62 percent are staying away from diet soda. That’s a sharp increase since 2002, when just 41 percent of Americans who responded to the same poll were steering clear of regular soda, and just 36 percent shied away from diet drinks.

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“Consumers may say they are trying to avoid soda because of the high-calorie and high-sugar content in regular soda, or the fears of artificial sweeteners used in diet soda,” wrote Gallup. “While some doctors agree that a can or two of soda a day isn’t harmful to one’s health, most advise that lower-calorie and natural beverages, such as skim milk or water, may be healthier choices.”

That penchant for healthier beverage alternatives has contributed to a decade of decline in soft drink sales in the United States. But, similar to big tobacco, soda companies are looking beyond American shores for profits.

At the same time that U.S. sales began falling flat, profits for the fizzy drinks were soaring in places such as obesity-plagued Mexico. Between 1989 and 2006, soda consumption saw a meteoric 60 percent per-capita increase in the country, according to the Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health. By 2013, the nation had become the world’s largest consumer of soda. Mexicans were guzzling an average of 46 gallons of soda per year, significantly more than the 31 gallons per year people in the United States were drinking in the same time period.

An imposition of a sales tax on soda in 2014 has curbed consumption somewhat in Mexico: The institute found that people drank 12 percent less soda in 2014, and among low-income residents it dropped 17 percent. Still, given overall consumption, bottlers there probably aren’t worried yet. After all, in parts of the country where access to clean drinking water is limited, a cold bottle of Mexican Coke is waiting in a vending machine.

If Mexicans and U.S. residents continue to turn away from soda, there’s always the nearly 1.4 billion people living in China to boost the corporate bottom line. Coca-Cola is investing $4 billion in building factories and adding products to meet soaring demand.