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Coca Cola EVP: Soda taxes ‘a complete disaster’

Sandy Douglas: 'We believe commonsense will prevail'

Soda taxes in Philadelphia and other cities have “materially reduced our business,” Coca Cola EVP and president, North America Sandy Douglas, told delegates at the Barclays Global Consumer Staples Conference in Boston this week: “It’s a complete disaster.”

Asked about the impact of soda taxes – which have rolled out to areas including Philadelphia, PA; Berkeley, San Francisco and Albany, CA; Boulder, CO; and Cook County, IL, and are set to spread to Seattle – Douglas said: “The honest answer is the situation in Philadelphia and early days in Chicago is a mess.

“You have a tax that's taxing everything with a sweetener in it that's in a form of a beverage,* but things like powdered drinks [with] sugar are not [taxed].”

He added: “It's cost jobs … it's a complete disaster. And it's ironic because… the goals of the tax are often about health [but] consumers are changing on their own. Sugar and non-alcoholic ready-to-drink beverages are down 20% since 2000.

“All of the growth that we've been talking about tends to be in low or no calorie or no sugar beverages.

"And so, we passionately believe the consumer can make the choice and make their own lifestyle decisions as long as we give them the choice, the information and the marketing to support making good choices. So we'll have to see. We believe that that commonsense will prevail.

“As we sit here today, there have been… cities …[such as] Santa Fe, New Mexico, you would have thought would've voted for a tax, and they voted 2 to 1 against it.

"But you know this debate, it's a good American debate, it's a public policy debate and hopefully commonsense will prevail.”

According to Nielsen all channel data collected by Wells Fargo, dollar sales of regular carbonated beverages were down 2% year on year in the 12 weeks to August 12, while dollar sales of low calorie carbonated beverages were down 3.1% year on year over the same period.

*In Philadelphia (where a soda tax came into force earlier this year) and Cook County Illinois (where a soda tax came into force in July) zero calorie drinks sweetened with high intensity sweeteners such as aspartame and stevia are included in the tax; whereas in Boulder, the tax applies only to beverages containing at least 5g of caloric sweetener per 12 fluid ounces.

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