Small Coke, Please: How a Sugar Tax is Affecting Drink Companies

By: Bill McCool

As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it...but you might have to make the bottle a teensy-bit smaller.

In response to the UK’s upcoming sugar tax set to go into effect this April, Coca-Cola has decided to shrink the size of their offerings from 1.75 liters to 1.5 liters. Rather than alter Coke’s long-standing tried and true formula, they opted to raise their prices while packaging it inside a smaller bottle.

The tax will hit soft drink makers the hardest. Beverages containing more than 5g of sugar will be taxed 18p per liter and drinks with more than 8g of sugar would go up 28p per liters. The taxes themselves are meant to discourage consumers from drinking sugary beverages and according to Cancer Research UK, it could prevent 3.7 million Britons from becoming obese.

So-called sugar taxes have been all the rage in recent years, and they’re beginning to pick up traction stateside as well. Look no further than Berkley, California where they became the first city in the United States to enact their own levy against soft drinks. In 2015 they started charging one penny per fluid ounce on soft drinks, meaning that a two-liter bottle of Coke will now set you back an additional 68 cents.

The taxation is not without merit. More than one-third of Americans are overweight and nearly 30 million suffer from type 2 diabetes. Sugar taxes could reduce healthcare spending by millions of dollars and what’s more, they actually seem to be working. In Berkley alone, soda sales have decreased by 9.6%, but as your left-coast hating uncle would say, “duh.” Berkley has one of the lowest rates of obesity in the country, so it only follows that a sugar tax would likely result in a decrease of soda consumption.

But they’re not the only city in America to enact such measures, in fact, Philadelphia raised the bar significantly. At the beginning of 2017, an additional tax of 1.5 cents per ounce of soda was passed on to consumers which would then goto funding pre-K programs, schools, libraries, and parks. However, revenues are lagging by some 15% and citizens of Philadelphia have chosen to drive outside the confines of the city for their fizzy confections.

Still, what lawmakers and public health advocates are quickly discovering is that when sugar taxes are proposed in conjunction with programs aimed at tackling issues like childhood obesity, they become popular with the public. Seattle, Oakland, and Boulder have passed similar legislation and it seems like just a matter of time until more US cities follow suit.

Of course, this is just one sector of the food and beverage industry. Critics argue that such a tax would unfairly target low-income Americans, nor does it take into consideration other sugar-rich products like fruit juice. Even Bernie Sanders came out against Philadelphia’s sugar tax during the 2016 presidential campaign arguing that a regressive tax wasn’t the answer to fund schools, rather, it should be a tax that is levied against the city’s wealthiest.

Regardless of whether or not sugar taxes are implemented throughout the country, obesity and diabetes remain an epidemic with no viable solution in sight. With healthcare costs rising exponentially, preventative measures like sugar taxes will likely surge in popularity in the coming years. Just don’t be surprised when your daily Coke costs a little more and comes in a much smaller size.


Bill McCool
Bill McCool is a freelance writer based out of Los Angeles. Though new to the world of design, he has always been a storyteller by trade and he seeks to inspire and cultivate a sense of awe with the work and artists he profiles. When he's not winning over his daughters with the art of the Dad joke, he is usually working on a pilot, watching the Phillies, or cooking an elaborate meal for his wife.