retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, MNB took note of a Chicago Tribune report that "sales of low calorie soft drinks in the United States have tumbled by almost 20 percent over the past five years, according to data from market research firm Euromonitor. This year, diet soda sales are on pace to drop another 5 percent. By 2019, they are projected to have fallen off by roughly a third since their peak in 2009."

Well, the following isn't going to make things any better for the soft drink business...

Mother Jones reports on a story in the Journal of Public Health suggesting that "researchers have found a link between regular soda consumption and premature aging ... a study of 5,300 adults compared the cells of people who drink soda every day to those of their non-soda-drinking counterparts. In the soda group, the ends of the chromosomes - known as telomeres - were shorter, a sign of their cells' diminished ability to regenerate. Our telomeres naturally shorten as we age, but scientists have discovered that a few behaviors - including smoking - can shorten them prematurely."

This research comes as soft drink companies look to establish their products as healthy snacks, often using social media to create momentum.

Just the other day, the New York Daily News reported that Coca-Cola "is working with fitness and nutrition experts who suggest its cola as a healthy treat. In February, for instance, several wrote online pieces for American Heart Month, with each including a mini-can of Coke or small soda as a snack idea."

The story went on to say that Coke hardly is alone in this effort: "Other companies including Kellogg and General Mills have used strategies like providing continuing education classes for dietitians, funding studies that burnish the nutritional images of their products and offering newsletters for health experts. PepsiCo Inc. has also worked with dietitians who suggest its Frito-Lay and Tostito chips in local TV segments on healthy eating. Others use nutrition experts in sponsored content; the American Pistachio Growers has quoted a dietitian for the New England Patriots in a piece on healthy snacks and recipes and Nestle has quoted its own executive in a post about infant nutrition."
KC's View:
The bad news about soft drink consumption is one thing ... but I get more irritated when companies try to spin stories about their products being healthy in a way that is deceptive. In the Daily News story, one writer, who did a piece in which a less-than-healthy food was positioned as a healthy alternative, was quoted as saying that she did not remember whether she'd been compensated for writing the piece.

Let me tell you something. As a writer of almost four decades experience, I can tell you that I remember the stories for which I got paid, and those that I wrote for free. That's one of the reasons that I'm very careful to label sponsored content on MNB - I won't get behind something I don't believe in, but I also won't pretend something is editorial when it is not. That's not fair to you, and it is not fair to the sponsor - I believe that transparency in such things gives us all more credibility, especially when I'm willing to turn down advertisers if I think their message is inconsistent with MNB's broader goals and themes.

By the way, trade journals routinely tell advertisers that if they buy an ad they'll write a positive piece about them, or they allow consultants to pay to write stories that promote their own businesses and./or clients while making it look like editorial. That's just one of the reasons I got out of that business.