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Why the Soda Industry Is the Big Tobacco of Our Times

Soft drinks are a multibillion-dollar industry with a health-harming playbook straight from the cigarette companies.

The following is an adapted excerpt from the new book Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)Copyright © 2015 by Marion Nestle and published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. Available for purchase from Amazon and IndieBound:

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Dr Pepper Snapple are collectively Big Soda. The industry as a whole, however, is a massive enterprise involving thousands of companies and hundreds of thousands of people engaged in manufacturing beverage syrups or concentrates; in bottling, canning, preparing, or distributing finished products; and in selling soda cans, bottles, or fountain drinks to consumers everywhere in the world. Soda companies produce and sell the equivalent of nearly two trillion 12-ounce servings of fountain or packaged beverages every year.

In doing so, the companies engaged in this industry perform one or more of four distinct tasks: producing syrup, bottling or canning the drinks, distributing the syrup or drinks, or selling the drinks, bottles, or cans. Table 7.1 summarizes the supply chain for carbonated sodas.

Nearly 4,900 companies throughout the world are engaged in producing syrups or bottling sodas, and 1,350 of them are in the United States. Until recently, these companies could be divided neatly into two categories: those making syrup and flavor concentrates for packaged sodas or fountain drinks, and those engaged in bottling or canning the finished products. Coca-Cola, for example, was largely a syrup producer; it left the bottling almost entirely to franchise companies located everywhere sodas are sold. In 2009, however, PepsiCo bought out its North American bottlers, and Coca-Cola did the same the following year. In other regions, some bottlers continue to be separate companies. But producing the syrup controls the enterprise; every company further down the supply chain depends on getting syrup from the manufacturer.