Pepsi vows to reduce sugar, yet still spends millions trying to thwart public health laws


On Monday, PepsiCo announced an ambitious new plan to cut the amount of sugar in its drinks.

By 2025, at least two-thirds of PepsiCo's drinks will have under 100 calories from added sugar in a 12-ounce serving. Currently, about 40% of PepsiCo's drinks meet that criteria.

But PepsiCo cutting sugar is more than a little bit ironic. Given PepsiCo's history of trying to thwart soda taxes while sponsoring health organizations, the company's announcement to cut sugar seems like less of a compassionate pledge to tackle obesity and more of a ploy to win sales as consumers themselves turn their backs on sugary beverages.

Demand for soda is falling flat in the U.S. In March 2016, a Beverage Digest report indicated soda sales dropped to the lowest they had been in 30 years, Fortune reported. A trend report from Nielsen revealed that healthy categories are growing faster than so-called indulgent ones, and a whopping 59% of consumers in North America are cutting down on sugar. 

"The last time Pepsi tried to position itself as doing something for health, its investors got very upset," Marion Nestle, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies & Public Health at New York University, said in an email. In 2012, investors got mad at PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi for focusing on getting revenue from healthy products, Business Insider reported. 

"[PepsiCo] will continue to do everything it can to promote its most profitable products," Nestle said. "These, alas, tend to be the ones with full sugar."

PepsiCo appears to be doing everything in its power to protect those full-sugar products, too. The company has spent millions lobbying against soda taxes and other public health measures. From 2011 to 2014, PepsiCo spent an average of $3 million a year lobbying against public health measures, a study published online on Oct. 10 noted.  

The American Beverage Association, the soda industry lobbying group, might have even paid dietitians to tweet against soda taxes, Mic previously reported. 

Pledging to cut sugar is a slick marketing move, but PepsiCo might not do our collective waistlines any real favors unless it ceases its opposition of soda taxes. Studies show these taxes do, in fact, help people drink more water and less soda.

"If PepsiCo wants to be a player in the movement to reduce obesity, then there is one simple thing it needs to do: discontinue its opposition to public policies intended to reduce obesity," Michael Siegel, who is a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at Boston University, holds a master's degree in public health and has researched Big Soda sponsorship of health organizations and lobbying efforts, said in an email. "Until [the company] does that, it is talking out of both sides of its mouth."

PepsiCo did not immediately respond to Mic's request for comment.