Hats Off to the Mayor of NYC

I’m not a big fan of Mayor Bloomberg but it’s always good to see a politician doing what’s in the interests of those who pay his salary as opposed to those who make large campaign contributions

An article on MSN Money caught my eye earlier this month regarding NY City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to ban super-sized fountain drinks in the Big Apple.  The headliner for the story read Coke comes out swinging against soda ban” indicating the soda conglomerate was going to fight this decision to strike a blow at obesity, a major health issue in this country to sustain profits.

According to Kim Peterson’s article, “ The company controls 70% of the fountain drink market that the proposal targets.”  All other sizes, including those packaged in cans and bottles, will remain untouched by this action.

So how, you may ask, will this small step by Mayor Bloomberg impact the problems related to America’s addiction to sugar and sugar products?  Very little … initially.  But Coke knows that the Taoist wisdom that a “journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” may be in play here and is circling its wagons to prevent any further advances.

“This raises the specter of this going to other cities as well,” said Bernstein Research analyst Ali Dibadj. “These companies may have to start playing whack-a-mole if this gains momentum.”

I think the writing however is on the wall for a lot of junk food.  People are beginning to see much more clearly the connection between unhealthy diets and high medical costs.  Not that junk food will disappear entirely but the vocal opposition to it is getting louder and more frequent … and in business, it just isn’t worth the negative images that come across when citizen protests get their message in front of the public.  Obesity is a serious health issue and no one wants their brand tainted by appearing to look insensitive to this problem.

The soft drink giant however appears to want to protect what industry analysts say is a significant part of their sales.  McDonald’s, a big distributor of fountain drinks, joined Coca-Cola in opposing this move, noting that 5% of their sales comes from soft drinks.  How much of that is the super-size version isn’t clear.

Again, the scale of this decision only looms largely when you look at it 10 years down the road but what’s to say this turns profits south for Coke?  If the free market principles are correct, Coke should be finding healthy options to market in order to eventually replace what will be a thing of the past.  Digging their heals in here will only prolong the inevitable and be seen by many health conscious consumers today as the actions of a self-entrenched mentality that would rather secure higher profits than lead the way to a world where obesity is no longer the national health threat it currently is.  But then again, I may be inhaling the second-hand smoke of some neighbor’s cannabis-filled pipe. We could all evolve into what Slate.com commentator Daniel Engber sees as the “weak-willed, indolent, and stupid” animated characters in the Disney Pixar film, Wall-E.

The popular libertarian scree was struck by Coke as a spokesman asserted that “New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase.”

Here’s where a part of the industry’s plan could succeed or fail.  If supporters of the ban point out that children, who often purchase these larger drinks, are easily manipulated by advertisement, then the notion that freedom of choice will be affected may not hold up to scrutiny.  Childhood obesity and diabetes are on the rise with adolescents.   When pounded routinely everyday with ads that encourage such consumption can true choice be a factor here when not balanced with the disadvantages of drinking such large quantities of sugar?   True choice is also negated with children and adults who have genetic factors that lead to overconsumption.

One could argue that how you raise your children will depend on how they make such choices but many obese kids are raised by parents who display similar “choices” in the way they eat  They hardly serve as a role model for their own kids.  Bloomberg’s decision to ban super-size drinks is not a violation of one’s personal freedom as much as it is a statement in how little the commercial interests in this country seem to have about the growing national dilemma we face with an overweight population.  Bloomberg supporters should point out that some choices are not always in the best interests of more vulnerable populations.

Obesity has been declared a disease by the Dept. of Health and Human Services, the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization and numerous other scientific organizations.   We allow laws to limit smoking, drinking alcohol and taking illicit drugs because they threaten the health and well-being of society.  It is only logical that some steps need to be taken to do the same with excessive quantities of food and drink that adversely affect many individuals.

To be honest too, the industry is less concerned about freedom of choice than they are about their bottom lines.  When you can sell products in a larger volume you reduce your inventory quicker.  This works fine for useful commodities that don’t have adverse affects on our health.  But I doubt there is any evidence that a 36 oz. drink will sufficiently quench thirst better than a 24 oz. drink or even two sixteen-ounce drinks.

I may not represent the normal population but in the few times I have purchased the super-size drink, thinking I really needed that amount to quench a thirst, I have almost exclusively wound up throwing part of it away.  On other occasions, especially when I was younger, I would consume the entire amount simply because it was there and I didn’t want to see myself wasting something I paid for.   But my thirst was quenched long before I drained the cup.

This is where the deception lies with people like Coke.  By attempting to make it an issue about freedom of choice they conceal the heart of the matter which is about consuming large amounts of product to increase profits.  I have nothing against a business wanting to boost their profit margin but in this case at least, its being done with little regard for the impact it has on our national health.

  

Coke needs to step up to the plate and pretend to be the human being that the Supreme Court claimed it was in Citizens United.  Show a little integrity and try and do something that promotes the general welfare over your greed to increase profits and bonuses.  Such humanitarianism can go a long way and may actually boost your brand’s image.  Now’s there’s a marketing strategy that probably gets very little consideration in board meetings.

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3 responses to “Hats Off to the Mayor of NYC

  1. I support his motives but not an actual law, and Coke employs a lot of people, so I don’t blame them for fighting this. I think if someone wants to supersize, it should be their right. It is not our job to police the nutritional habits of adults. I’m sorry that Diabetes and obesity is a big thing now or that people have not taken their health seriously, but that is a matter of self control and not forcing people to eat and drink a certain way. Forcing someone to adhere to nutritional guidelines just smacks of way too much government intervention and this comes from someone who is for universal health care. I just get nervous when individual freedoms are tossed, and as small a freedom as it is, Drinking a supersize of coke it’s still an individual choice. Just me but I do like my occasional Diet Coke. HA HA

    • I would only disagree with your take on this Donna from the perspective of seeing the purchase of one size of soda over another as an issue of freedom. Has anyone really lost the essential element of freedom of choice in a case like this? Immanuel Kant points out this difference in his philosophy of freedom. Michael J Sandel talks of this in his book “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?”

      “Kant’s idea of freedom is … more demanding than the freedom of choice we exercise when buying and selling goods on the market. What we commonly think of as market freedom or consumer choice is not true freedom, … because it simply involves satisfying desires we haven’t chosen in the first place.” (p 106)

      Choosing how to quench your thirst is forced upon you by the natural desire to drink, and the developed taste for sweets we all have; things your body dictates, not your will. Coke of course would have you believe that something more deeper and fundamental is at stake here but it is my view that this is merely an attempt to exploit the true conceptual value of “freedom” to prevent what little revenue loss they may experience here.

      A true act of freedom may be where you choose to quench your thirst with a less harmful product in a smaller package that reduces your carbon foot print. These kinds of choices, for me at least, are more the challenge than feeding my natural desire to drink one volume of liquid over another.

  2. Coke has an opportunity here to do the civic minded and socially aware thing at the same time engaging in massively good PR for themselves — the writing is on the wall. These industries will more and more become seen as very much like the tobacco industry — preying on the weak and ignorant so as to insure huge profits. The hell with the libertarian, individual choice view. The government’s role is Absolutely to step in when industries threaten the nation’s health – fiscal and physical. Individual choice? That view is completely ignorant of the massive and insidious advertising that targets the most vulnerable — children!!

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