Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg—Getty Images
By Phil Wahba
September 23, 2014

Coca-Cola (KO), PepsiCo (PEP), and Dr Pepper Snapple (DPS) pledged on Tuesday to cut beverage calories consumed per person in the United States by 20% by 2025, through a mix of marketing, distribution and packaging, in tacit recognition of their role in the American obesity crisis.

The voluntary plan, announced at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, at the national level entails the three major soda makers widening the availability of low- and zero-calorie beverages and with drinks sold in smaller format. The agreement will also apply to 3 million company-owned vending machines and coolers in convenience stores, as well as fountain soda dispensers at fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s (MCD). Each beverage company will also provide calorie counts, and promote calorie awareness.

It also follows a previous pledge by the soda makers to lower the calories in the drinks they sell on school campuses. An independent analysis of that initiative published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2012 found a 90% reduction in calories from beverages shipped to schools between the 2004-2010 school years.

“Our work with beverage companies to reduce the number of calories shipped to schools by 90% demonstrates the power of creative cooperation,” former President Bill Clinton said in a statement.

At the local level, the companies committed to putting more effort in communities where there has been less interest in, or access to, ways in which consumers can reduce their drink calorie consumption. To do that, they will more heavily promote their bottled water products. The companies are being encouraged to introduce and expand new lower-calorie products and smaller-portion formats, among other endeavors.

The initiative, which the American Beverage Association hailed as the “single-largest voluntary effort by an industry to help fight obesity” follows a slew of regulatory proposals that threatened soft drink makers’ sales, from a (failed) effort by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to limit the size of soda portions to a bill in California seeking to require warning labels on soft drinks.

The agreement dovetails well with what Coke, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper have been trying to achieve anyway: reduce their exposure to sugary drinks. The decline in U.S. sales of carbonated soft drinks accelerated in 2013, falling 3% in 2013 to 8.9 billion cases, the ninth straight year of decline, according to industry newsletter Beverage Digest.

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