Why Americans Are Slowly Breaking Up With Soda

March 30th 2015

As U.S. obesity rates continue to climb, an increasing number of Americans are saying no to sugary, high-calorie soda. Beverage Digest published a report Thursday revealing a 29-year low in soda consumption, and fellow soda industry tracker Beverage Marketing found Americans consumed just 12.76 billion gallons of soda last year. That's a high number all right, but this is a 1 percent drop and soda's tenth consecutive year of decreased consumption.

As soda interest has declined, bottled water sales have gone up. Last year, bottled water consumption increased to 10.87 billion gallons, a 7.3 percent spike from 2013. It was also the fastest growth spurt for bottled water sales in nine years. Beverage Marketing suspects bottled water consumption will eclipse soda consumption within the next two years. 

What are people drinking instead?

As earlier stated, U.S. obesity rates aren't looking so good. Sugar drinks have been connected to obesity and poor dental health, among many other risks. A 2013 report from General Dentistry found years of drinking diet soda is similarly damaging to the teeth as years of meth or cocaine smoking. Acid erodes tooth enamel, putting teeth at greater risk of getting cavities, developing cracks, discoloring, and sensitivity. 

The soda industry also now competes with a host of tasty beverage options: flavored Vitaminwater, various brands of coconut water, and other juices that better hydrate drinkers, contain fewer calories, and are healthier. Instant coffee volume also went up 11 percent last year, suggesting Americans who may have previously gotten their caffeine fix from soda have switched over to lower-calorie, convenient coffee. 

Even zero-calorie Diet Coke experienced a dip. Last year, its volume plunged to 6.6 percent and fell back to the third most popular soda. Regular, non-diet Coke held its place at the top of the list and had a slight volume increase of 0.1 percent. Diet Pepsi and Diet Mountain Dew dropped 5.2 percent and 3 percent. The good news for PepsiCo and Coke is that both companies have seen volume growth for their respective water brands, Aquafina and Dasani.

Bottled water hasn't always been on the upswing. It suffered in 2008 and 2009 as a result of the recession, which prompted many Americans to use tap or filtered water. The market has since bounced back.

Why the soda industry shouldn't fret too much.

The consistent fall isn't promising for the soda industry, but soda remains the most successful, non-alcoholic beverage on the market. According to Beverage Digest, soda profits spiked to $77.4 billion in 2014 after manufacturers increased product costs and began distributing smaller amounts of soda to customers, potentially alleviating their concerns about portion control.

Water bottle on sand


The problem with increased bottled water consumption.

Every year, the U.S. consumes around 30 billion bottled waters, many of which end up in the ocean or in landfills. According to the Pacific Institute, a sustainability research group, bottled water production alone uses twice as much water as the amount of water in the bottle. This is scary wherever you live, but especially alarming if you're in California, which is currently going through a severe drought.

Recycling can decrease the number of bottles in oceans and landfills, but only one out of every six bottles of water make it to the recycling bin. It can take 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose, according to the Michigan Water Stewardship Program.

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