January 14, 2013

Coca-Cola to address obesity for first time in TV ads

The ad lays out Coca-Cola's record of providing drinks with fewer calories and says weight gain is the result of consuming too many calories of any kind — not just soda.

The Associated Press

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This undated image shows a frame grab taken from a new commercial from Coca-Cola. The Atlanta-based company on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, said it will start airing a two-minute spot during the highest-rated shows on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC in hopes of flexing its marketing muscle in the debate over sodas and their impact on public health. The ad lays out Coca-Cola's record of providing drinks with fewer calories over the years and notes that weight gain is the result of consuming too many calories of any kind, not just soda. (AP Photo/Coca0Cola)

The company declined to say how much it was spending on the commercials, which it started putting together last summer. It also declined to give details on its plans for the year ahead. But among the options under consideration is putting the amount of activity needed to burn off the calories in a drink on cans and bottles.

The company noted that it already puts calorie counts on the front of its cans and bottles. Last year, it also started posting calorie information on its vending machines ahead of a regulation that will require soda companies to do so by 2014.

Coca-Cola's changing business reflects the public concern over the calories in soda. In North America, all the growth in its soda unit over the past 15 years has come from low- and no-calorie drinks, such as Coke Zero. Diet sodas now account for nearly a third of its sales in the U.S. and Canada. Other beverages such as sports drinks and bottled water are also fueling growth.

Even with the growing popularity of diet sodas, however, overall soda consumption in the U.S. has declined steadily since 1998, according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest.

John Sicher, the publisher of Beverage Digest, noted that the industry "put its head in the sand" when obesity and soft drinks first started becoming an issue more than a decade ago. Now, he said Coca-Cola is looking to position itself in the public debate rather than being defined by adversaries.

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