Is Soda Companies' Vow To 'Cut Calories' A Marketing Ploy?

Three soda giants announced a plan to cut the amount of calories consumed via sugary drinks, but that doesn't mean cutting the calories in the drinks.

Is Soda Companies' Vow To 'Cut Calories' A Marketing Ploy?
Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

This week New York is hosting the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative

And just three days into the meeting, an announcement made Tuesday by former President Bill Clinton has dominated headlines. 

Soda giants Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group have pledged to cut 20 percent of the calories Americans consume from their sugary beverages by 2025. 

KPRC: "The recommended daily allowance of sugar is 6 teaspoons. That's one box of apple juice or a half can of most sodas. Right now the average American consumes roughly 40 teaspoons a day." 

The voluntary agreement between the American Beverage Association and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation is part of the effort to help lower obesity rates in the U.S. (Video via ABC)

Now, when you take a look at the headlines, it sounds like the soda companies will be reducing the number of calories in their beverages, right? 

Wrong. No ingredients will be tampered with for this initiative. Instead, the companies have said they will alter the way they market and distribute the sugary products — drinks that admittedly make up the majority the soft drink giants' revenue. So how will this work? 

HLN: "Think of that soda machine at a fast food restaurant. ... Maybe you're looking for a diet soda and can't find one, and water is kind of hidden. And those ... are directly controlled by the soda company." 

Changing that setup could be one potential way to help the companies keep their promise. 

But The Wall Street Journal points out the companies also "have committed to providing calorie counts on more than 3 million vending machines, self-serve fountain dispensers and retail coolers in stores, restaurants and other points of sale."

Some outlets are calling out the soda-makers for what could easily be a misleading story for consumers, especially with the direct promise of "cutting calories." 

FOX NEWS: "It is a little, I don't want to call it shady, but I think it is more symbolic than it is significant."

There's also another reason analysts are a bit skeptical — this promise from Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper might be coming a little late in the game.

An expert on obesity and the dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University told The New York Times"I suspect they're promising what's going to happen anyway. ... All the trends are showing decreased consumption of high-calorie beverages, and so what better way to get a public relations boost than to promise to do what's happening anyway?"

Beverage Digest reports in 1998 the average American consumed 56 gallons of soda per year. As of 2013, that number has dropped to about 42 gallons. 

But the pledge could still be seen as a big deal coming from companies like Coke that have, in the past, encouraged consumers to exercise more instead of cut back on sugary beverages — as well as opposed the many failed attempts to regulate soft drinks. (Video via Coca-Cola

The new program is expected to begin in Los Angeles and Little Rock, Arkansas. 

This video includes images from Getty Images.