Leadership

American Beverage Association Aims High with Anti-Obesity Partnership

With three of its most prominent member companies on board—and with the support of a public figure no less esteemed than Bill Clinton—the association has set a bold goal to help consumers significantly cut calories from beverages over the next decade.

As far as partnerships go, you can’t do much better than teaming up with a former president.

The American Beverage Association (ABA) can make that claim after setting a bold goal for the industry this week: At the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton announced a voluntary pledge by the Coca-Cola Company, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, and PepsiCo to reduce the calories consumed from beverages in the American diet by 20 percent by 2025.

We worked together as colleagues, building consensus and engaging other stakeholders along the way. That’s how you are able to do something big and meaningful, have an impact in the policy arena, and, in the end, deliver results.

ABA entered into the agreement on behalf of its member companies with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Clinton Foundation, the nonprofit group founded by the former president.

“I am excited about the potential of this voluntary commitment by the beverage industry. It can be a critical step in our ongoing fight against obesity,” Clinton said in a joint statement by the three groups. “Our work with beverage companies to reduce the number of calories shipped to schools by 90 percent demonstrates the power of creative cooperation. We look forward to continuing to work together to achieve the goals outlined in this commitment.”

The companies will pledge to use their joint marketing and distributing clout to offer access to smaller portions and lower-calorie soda options in stores and vending machines, among other points of sale. The companies will also focus their efforts on communities where lower-calorie options have been less popular or less widely available.

“This is the single-largest voluntary effort by an industry to help fight obesity and leverages our companies’ greatest strengths in marketing, innovation, and distribution,” ABA President and CEO Susan K. Neely said in a statement.

Neely, who is currently serving as chair of ASAE, said the initiative shows how associations can be a force for positive change.

“For us, developing a strategy is a collaborative process with our members. We listen very carefully to their ideas and concerns,” she told Associations Now. The effort “is a true example of that philosophy. We worked together as colleagues, building consensus and engaging other stakeholders along the way. That’s how you are able to do something big and meaningful, have an impact in the policy arena, and, in the end, deliver results.”

A Changing Soda Landscape

While the press largely characterized the effort as bold, it comes at a time when political challenges are on the rise for the industry.

Although the industry was successful in fighting a measure in New York City that would have limited the size of beverages sold in restaurants, other policy debates have persisted. In California, for example, the association has been fighting potential ballot measures in San Francisco and Berkeley that would tax soda on a per-ounce basis. A national tax has been proposed in Congress but is unlikely to pass.

And some critics have responded to the new calorie initiative by citing studies suggesting that the sweeteners used in diet soda may have many of the effects of full-calorie soda, including posing obesity and diabetes risks.

The move was nonetheless welcomed by health-focused groups, such as the American Heart Association, a member of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

“We believe that today’s announcement moves us one step closer to improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans and people throughout the world, helping them to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke,” AHA said in a statement.

(Coca-Cola press photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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