Coca-Cola disclosed it spent more than previously reported on scientific research and health-related programs that were criticized by some as aiming to downplay the link between soda and obesity.
In a post on Coke’s (KO) website, the beverage giant now says it spent $132.8 million on scientific research and partnerships over a five-year period from 2010 through the end of last year. This was the first update since September – when Coke initially said such spending totaled $118.6 million – and the company vowed to continue to update the public every six months.
The discrepancy in those figures involves several moving parts. Coke disclosed an additional $15.5 million in grants and $490,000 to support scientific research, while it removed $1.8 million in incorrect entries. It also provided more than $500,000 in grants to organizations in several communities where initiatives were in place to encourage a reduction in beverage calories.
“We also will continue to listen and learn from the public health community as we work to be a more helpful and credible partner to our consumers,” said Sandy Douglas, President Coca-Cola North America, in a statement.
The about-face by Coke comes after media reports last summer that questioned the financial support Coke provided to a nonprofit called Global Energy Balance Network, which aimed to prevent disease associated with obesity and poor nutrition. Those close ties led some to raise concerns about the objectivity of the nonprofit’s mission if it was being funded by a beverage company that is often targeted by scientists as hurting efforts to curtail obesity by selling high-calorie soft drinks.
The Global Energy Balance Network moved to disband late last year.
On the business side, Coke and other rivals are facing declines – or at best very slow volume growth – in the U.S. and other western markets. Consumers have increasingly turned to juices, flavored waters, and other beverage options they deem healthier. Coke has made investments in those arenas to better position itself, including acquiring a minority stake in organic juice maker Suja and launching a high-profile new milk called Fairlife that it claims is “better” for consumers.