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Friday, March 19, 2010

Pepsi to Cut Sugary Drinks from Schools Worldwide

USA Today

The iPod Generation will get a global lesson in healthier beverages from an unlikely source: Pepsi.

PepsiCo on Tuesday announced plans to voluntarily remove high-calorie sweetened drinks from schools for kids up to age 18 in more than 200 countries by 2012. Coke and Pepsi agreed to stop selling sugary drinks in U.S. schools in 2006.

Pepsi is responding to demands from activists that food and beverage companies not offer kids products linked to childhood obesity. The action came on the day that Michelle Obama stood before an annual conference of the world's largest food companies and urged them to "entirely rethink" the products they market to kids.

Branding expert Jonathan Salem Baskin is skeptical of Pepsi's motives. "Coke taught the world to sing. Pepsi is going to teach the world to diet?"

He suspects not: "My heart and soul want me to believe this is a statement of principle. ... So how are we (Americans) supposed to show our appreciation to Pepsi? By doubling our consumption?"

Well, that would help. While global carbonated soft-drink consumption was up about 1% in 2008 — the most recent year tracked — it was down 3% in the U.S., reports Beverage Digest.

Pepsi received some compliments on its move — including one from a longtime adversary.

"We applaud Pepsi for its global commitment," says Bruce Silverglade, legal affairs director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "But shame on Coca-Cola for insisting on targeting high school students in most countries around the world."

Coke announced this month it won't sell sugared drinks in primary schools worldwide unless asked, but it is not matching Pepsi's move for high schools. "We believe school authorities should have the right to choose what is best for their schools," says spokeswoman Crystal Warwell Walker.

Coke's global share of carbonated soft-drink sales is 50.5% vs. Pepsi's 22.2%, says Beverage Digest. Pepsi said it did not have exact numbers for school sales, but said it's not a major part of global sales.

John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest, says Pepsi's move is smart. "It's the old adage: They want to do well by doing good."