Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. on Tuesday agreed to cut the amount of beverage calories that Americans consume by 20 percent over the next decade, saying they'll more heavily promote smaller portion sizes, water and diet drinks.
The American Beverage Association-backed effort, which also involves Dr Pepper Snapple Group, made the commitment at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York. The move builds on a 2006 agreement to limit portion sizes targeted at schoolkids that resulted in beverage calories shipped to schools falling 90 percent between 2004 and 2010.
The latest campaign is a response to growing criticism of the industry, which is blamed for contributing to America's obesity epidemic. Demand for sugary drinks has already been declining, though, suggesting that the industry could achieve these goals without much additional effort, said Jeff Cronin, a spokesman for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, one of the first groups to sound the alarm about sodas in the 1990s.
"Nondiet soda is already in a free fall," Cronin said. "There is no reason to think that trend wouldn't accelerate on its own."
Cronin estimates sales for such drinks have declined 15 percent since 1998. Volume sales could drop an additional 20 percent within a decade with no action by soft-drink makers, he said.
"The soda industry is trying to forestall meaningful action on policies that will further reduce consumption, taxes being first and foremost," Cronin said.
PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and the beverage association spent as much as $70 million on lobbying and issue ads between 2009 and early 2012, according to Cronin's group. In that time, at least 30 states proposed aggressive excise taxes on soft drinks, all of which failed.
With the new initiative, the beverage industry will hire an independent evaluator to track progress toward the 20 percent reduction, which is slated for 2025, according to a statement Tuesday.
"This is the single-largest voluntary effort by an industry to help fight obesity," Susan Neely, the American Beverage Association's chief executive officer, said in the statement. "This initiative will help transform the beverage landscape in America."