Putting the Fizz Back Into Soft Drinks


Sales of carbonated beverages are going flat in the restaurant sector, leaving suppliers and operators searching for inventive ways to boost soft drink consumption once again. 

The polar bears in Coke’s iconic ads are skating on thinner ice these days.

While talk of softening soda sales pops up every couple years, the reality is becoming tough to avoid: sales of regular and diet soda in the restaurant industry fell by 1.7 and 5.7 percent, respectively, between February 2013 and February 2014, according to market research firm The NPD Group.

Blame it on health concerns or a post-recession, value-seeking mindset, but one thing is certain: consumers are purchasing fewer soft drinks than ever before—and restaurants aren’t isolated from the resulting impact. As consumers shy away from soda in favor of healthier, trendier sips like tap and flavored water—and restaurants scramble to replace high-margin soft drinks with more on-trend options—beverage makers are not standing idly by; instead, they are creating a roadmap of how to drive sales of fizzy drinks for a new generation, beginning with re-enginnering their focus toward breakfast and snacking.

“You’re seeing annually that total gallonage of soft drinks in foodservice has probably been down an average of 2–3 percent over the last five years or so,” says Joe Pawlak, senior vice president of foodservice research firm Technomic, Inc. “That puts pressure on the operator from a profitability standpoint, so they’re looking for other beverages, new beverages, to take the place [of soft drinks]—not only from a sales perspective, but also from a marketing perspective.”

The struggle extends beyond foodservice. A 2013 study from beverage publication Beverage Digest revealed total carbonated soft drink sales, including those in the retail sector, fell 3 percent last year to the lowest level of consumption since 1995. The sales skid coincided with the ninth consecutive year of declining soft drink sales.

While there are a number of reasons for this decline in soft drink sales and consumption, a search for value in a post-recession world continues to play a major role, says Bob McDevitt, senior vice president of franchising for family-dining chain Golden Corral. He says 70 percent of consumers at Golden Corral who opt for water over another beverage do so for economic reasons.

Pawlak also counts health concerns and a greater sense of consumer consciousness among the top contributors to the soft drink sales slide. And not even diet soft drinks are safe from these evolving consumer habits.


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