Soda industry launches 'calorie count' vending machines

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NEW YORK — As criticism of sugary sodas intensifies, Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper are rolling out new vending machines that will put calorie counts right at your fingertips.

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Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper announced that they'll roll out new vending machines showing calorie counts for sodas as a result of criticism of sugary soft drinks.  ASSOCIATED PRESS
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper announced that they'll roll out new vending machines showing calorie counts for sodas as a result of criticism of sugary soft drinks.

The move comes ahead of a regulation that would require restaurant chains and vending machines to post the information as early as next year, although the specifics for complying with the requirement are still being worked out.

“They’re seeing the writing on the wall and want to say that it’s corporate responsibility,” said Mike Jacobson, the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which advocates for food safety and nutrition.

Still, he noted that it was an important step forward.

“Currently, people don’t think about calories when they go up to a vending machine,” he said. “Having the calories right on the button will help them make choices.”

The American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc., said the calorie counts will be on the buttons people press to select a drink. Vending machines will also feature small decals, such as “Calories Count: Check Then Choose.”

The vending machines will launch in Chicago and San Antonio municipal buildings in 2013 before appearing nationally.

Without providing specifics, the American Beverage Association said the machines will also boost the availability of lower- and zero-calorie drinks.

“We have market research that says consumers really like this – they like choice, they like the ability to make choices,” said Susan Neely, the president of the industry group.

A mock-up of a new machine provided by Coca-Cola showed 20-ounce bottles of its flagship drink and Sprite inside vending machines, with labels on the buttons stating “240 calories.”

The decision to post calorie information follows the Supreme Court’s decision this summer to uphold President Obama’s health care overhaul, which includes a regulation that would require restaurant chains with more than 20 locations and vending operators with more than 20 machines to post calorie information.

McDonald’s Corp. also announced last month that it would begin posting calorie information on its menus nationwide. Like the soda industry, the fast-food giant said it was a voluntary decision and not spurred by the pending requirement.

There is no timetable for when all vending machines will be converted. Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper often work with third-party operators to provide drinks in vending machines; Neely said the companies will work with those outside operators to convert all machines over time.

Vending machines account for about 13 percent of sales, a figure that has remained relatively unchanged in recent years, according to Beverage Digest.

Soda consumption is often identified for playing a role in rising obesity rates, although other factors such as a lack of physical activity and overeating also contribute.

Last month, the New England Journal of Medicine published a decades-long study of more than 33,000 Americans that showed sugary beverages interact with genes that affect weight, meaning they are especially harmful to people who are hereditarily predisposed to weight gain.

Bonnie Sashin, who works as a communications director for a nonprofit in Brookline, Mass., says she stays away from sugary drinks, limiting herself to a can of Diet Dr Pepper or Diet Coke about twice a month. But she thought the move to display calorie information on vending machines was a positive development.

“Anything that helps us be more educated about calories is a good thing,” Sashin said.


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