Packaging and the New York Beverage Battle

Packaging and the New York Beverage Battle

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided that our country is fat because of our desire for soft drinks, or more accurately, our desire to consume too much of a soft drink.  Whether the mayors' intentions are good or whether a hidden agenda exists, Bloomberg's ban on sweetened soft drinks over 16 ounces is simply misguided and will likely cause more problems than it solves.

First, this ban is being considered despite:
  • Polls showing that Americans in general do not support the ban.
  • Polls showing that New Yorkers do not support the ban.
  • Exemptions for drinks that contain more than 50 % milk by volume (meaning you can still buy, or sell, a 13.7 ounce bottle of Vanilla Frappuccino from Starbucks though it contains 290 calories, 4.5 grams of fat and 45 grams of sugar).  For comparison purposes, a liter of Coca-Cola (or about 2 1/2 of the Frappuccino's) contains 400 calories and 108 grams of sugar.
  • Larger stores and chain stores will be exempt from the ban, remaining free to sell whatever size drinks they wish.
  • The ban is easily overcome by purchasing two 16 ounce drinks to obtain what used to be sold as a 32 ounce drink. 
Imagine the effect this will likely have on smaller businesses and niche business, who can no longer sell the same products as Wal-Mart and other larger stores. Movie theaters, gas stations and smaller mom and pop type stores rely on beverage sales for income and cash flow to make up for the cash that must immediately go out for tickets sales and for gas itself.  If any of this is not making sense to you, welcome to the club!  The mayors office in New York has decided that sugary soft drinks are the new evil, only to be sold in small sizes next to cigarettes, cigars and other healthy tobacco products (sarcasm added).  Nevermind that a consumer is not limited in the number they can buy, so that purchasing two products pretty much completely destroys the questionable intention of the law.  

The saddest part is the effect that this ban will have on some businesses stuck on the periphery of this abuse of power.  Honey Green Tea, with 35 calories per eight-ounce serving, comes in a 16.9 ounce bottle, putting it just over the size limit and calorie limit.  No exemption for the tea, as it, too, lacks milk.  What can this mean for a company such as Honest Tea, who bottles Honey Green Tea?  In a worst case scenario, scrapping their entire packaging system in order to conform to a incredibly misguided campaign against obesity.  In a situation such as this, some packaging equipment, such as capping machines, filling machines and even a conveyor system will require modification at best and become useless at worst.  On top of the packaging machinery, new bottles, bottle molds, UPC codes, caps and other packaging goods may be required as well.  The end result being a costly overhaul to a company that has done nothing wrong.  

In the public eye, the intention of this ban is to fight obesity.  But given the fact that soft drinks are far from solely responsible for obesity, the exemptions allowed under the ban and the ease of getting around the rule by purchasing multiple bottles, it is hard not to question this intent.  The positive effect, if any, is likely not to be noticeable.  The negative effect on small businesses and those packagers like Honest Tea will be much more noticeable and concrete.  Even if you do not live in the New York area, this ban is worth keeping an eye on, as other states are sure to follow the same questionable logic should it work in New York.

For more on this potential ban, see the Beverage World Article Size Wars.