Reducing the amount of added sugar in soda and the size of the packages offered in supermarkets can help us all consume less sugar overall, thereby reducing the risks to our health.
Consumers benefit, but how to affect producers? Marketing diet or sugar-free soda doesn’t increase soda manufacturers’ overall turnover, according to US research.
This is due to the fact that consumers frequently switch between sweetened and sugar-free varieties of the same brand. Reducing the size of the soda package, however, improves the brand’s overall sales results. Based on US data, John Guitt (UvA) and Christopher Keller (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) conducted a recent study on marketing.
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Excessive sugar consumption is a problem worldwide. This can lead to many health problems, including diabetes and heart disease, resulting in an increased burden on the health care system. “Companies like PepsiCo have reduced the amount of sugar in their products over the years, along with marketing their best brands in smaller packages. Down in absolute terms,” explained Guyt.
Soda manufacturers must strike a balance between reducing the amount of sugar in their products on the one hand and maintaining or increasing their turnover on the other. This may be difficult to achieve if consumers reject low-sugar alternatives. Using U.S. data, Gait and Keller investigated whether soda manufacturers’ strategies to reduce sugar content had an impact on sales—and if so, under what circumstances.
“While reducing the amount of sugar in soda reduces sugar consumption, replacing a sugary drink with a new diet or sugar-free version doesn’t make a difference to a manufacturer’s bottom line,” Guitt said, “because of brand cannibalism: increased sales of the new diet version and the sugary version of the same drink.” The lower sales cancel each other out. Obviously, this is good news for consumers from a health perspective, but it’s less attractive for brands overall. Results. They make more money selling sugary drinks. However, we found that marketing new drinks in smaller packages – what Americans call ‘mini cans’ of 7.5 and 8 fl oz (about 240 ml) – lead to an increase in the overall sales figures of the brands. This can be explained by the fact that these packages are as popular among consumers as the larger packages of competing brands they buy. Overall , it’s a win-win situation for consumers and producers alike.”
‘Fun’ instead of ‘Healthy’
One of the other findings was the important role played by the brand’s product strategy. Researchers found that low-sugar sodas sold better when marketed with fun claims like ‘sweetened with sugar’, and marketed worse with health claims like ‘no sugar’.
These products also sold better when marketed under the parent brand than under the subsidiary brand. Keller: ‘Efforts to reduce sugar content are significantly more effective when they are not focused on. Coca-Cola’s zero sugar product range is a good example of this. In 2021, the range was redesigned to look more like “regular” Coca-Cola, as opposed to the earlier Coca-Cola Zero.’ Smaller packages also work well when marketed as a fun, high-quality option rather than a healthy one. Selling smaller packages as a single product rather than as part of a multi-pack will further boost sales figures.
Not as mini as it sounds
Guyt and Keller analyzed sales data for approximately 130,000 newly introduced sodas produced by approximately 80 brands and sold in American supermarkets over an 11-year period. They enriched the data with information about the sugar content of different sodas. In addition, they looked at the brand’s product strategies: labeling (pleasure or health claims), branding (parent or subsidiary brand) and packaging format (single product or multi-pack).
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