its profile in the last year with a guerrilla anti-pollution campaign that takes
direct aim at beverage companies.
To be fair, the industry has always created new products to grow business. What was a handful of drinks in the 1970s exploded in the 1980s and has been increasing exponentially ever since. That evidence allows leaders at Coca-Cola, Pepsi and within the industry to reject any suggestion that they have ramped up their output in response to slowing sales of carbonated drinks.
And, they argue, it would be inaccurate to dismiss the promising outlook for some carbonated products. Coke Zero, for instance, has seen double-digit growth for five consecutive years, and Coca-Cola officials hope to boost those numbers with a future line extension featuring Caffeine Free Coke Zero.
"To be clear, offering new brands and supporting and growing our existing brands isn't mutually exclusive," said Coca-Cola spokeswoman Susan Stribling. "We don't abdicate one at the expense of the other. We do both."
Still, experts said there is no denying that the industry has read the tea leaves and wants to be ready with alternative products to fill any sales void that might result if carbonated drink sales erode further.
"It's an ever-changing market and the biggest players will only stay on top by being innovative," said analyst and Columbus State University President Tim Mescon.
And the current crop of offerings are smarter and hail from more sound research, the experts said. For every hit the big beverage companies have had, such as Coke Zero and Gatorade G Series, there has been a Coke Blak or Pepsi Blue failure.
"Both companies (Coca-Cola and Pepsi) are innovating, but focusing their innovation," said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest. "Over the last decade, they both introduced products that went boom splat."
For some, there is a lot riding on the industry getting it right. Two top reasons convenience store visitors stop in after filling their gas tanks are to use the restroom and to get something to drink, said Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores. And because margins on gasoline sales are razor thin, those beverage sales are crucial to keeping the doors open.
In fact, a recent survey by NACS found that packaged drinks -- which include carbonated and non-carbonated offerings -- are big drivers of sales during the summer months, with 84 percent of retailers reporting that sales of packaged drinks increase when it is warm outside, while 59 percent said the same thing happens with fountain drinks.
"People want to try new drinks and the manufacturers created that environment," Lenard said.
Carbonated drink sales in the United States have been declining since 2005, according to Beverage Digest, a publication that follows the industry. That is a contrast to the 1990s, when business was robust and soaring.
Carbonated drink sales growth over the past 10 years
2002: +.08 percent
2007: -2.3 percent
2012: -1.2 percent
Per capita consumption of 8-ounce serving of carbonated drinks
Source: Beverage Digest
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