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A new Coke? Well, it's smaller

Coca-Cola's new "portion-controlled" 7.5-ounce cans. (Coca-Cola)

There's a new Coke coming. This time, will Americans embrace it?

It tastes the same; the company learned the hard way not mess around with its formula when it introduced New Coke in 1985. This time around, there's just less of it; the latest mini cans are less than half the size of a standard 20-ounce bottle and contain only 90 calories.

The cans will hit Washington area and NYC store shelves in December, and should be widely available elsewhere in the United States by March 2010. Cherry Coke, Sprite, Fanta Orange and Barq's Root Beer will be sold in mini-can eight-packs as well.

This "portion-control option" is designed to help people "manage their calorie intake while still enjoying the beverages they love," according to a news release from L. Celeste Bottorff, vice president of Coca-Cola's Living Well initiative.

Coca-Cola hopes she's right. With obesity at crisis levels, public health advocates are calling for a tax on sugary drinks. In the past decade, they say, per-capita intake of calories from sugar-sweetened beverages (read: soda) has increased by nearly 30 percent. Beverages now account for 10 to 15 percent of the calories consumed by children and adolescents. With each can or glass of sugared beverage consumed per day, the likelihood of a child's becoming obese increases by 60 percent.

The smaller cans are part of a broader defense mounted by Coca-Cola. Obesity is a complex issue that has more to do with a lack of physical exercise and consuming too much food, not necessarily soda, Muhtar Kent, the company's cheif executive explained in a recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed.

On Oct. 5, the company joined other food manufacturers to launch the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, which aims to educate parents, teachers and children about "energy balance" -- Orwellian Newspeak for only eating as many calories as you burn off. The next day, it announced a partnership with the American Academy of Family Physicians "to develop consumer education content on beverages and sweeteners."

Public health advocates have dismissed many industry efforts, pooh-poohing them as a dive for political cover. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University and author of the Food Politics blog, called the AAFP deal an "embarrassing conflict of interest" for physician organization.

But advocates say the smaller cans have some potential.

"In principle, it's good to offer smaller servings. They have systematically calibrated people in the upward direction of what is an acceptable size," Kelly Brownell, co-director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said by phone on Friday.

But, he noted, the 7.5 ounce-cans still hold more than the 6.5-ounce bottles that were standard when he was growing up.

Do you think smaller portions can help fight obesity? Should the government levy a soda tax? What do you think?

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  October 19, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Food Politics  | Tags: Jane Black, nutrition  
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I'm interested in these not because of cutting calories, but because I'm very sensitive to caffeine, and I love regular Coke. This might be a nice size to have that taste of Coke without making me stay up all night.

Posted by: marcelle42 | October 19, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

instead of singling out soda in a grossly unfair effort to target obesity, why not tax calories in general? this way products that contribute in worse ways to the problem (but whose persecution aren't as politically fashionable) would suffer in an appropriate manner.

Posted by: exile_from_virginia | October 19, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

I think smaller portions fight obesity just as larger portions promote it. And, yes, tax the heck out of soda pop. It has zero nutrition, it's not food.

Posted by: ryburn | October 19, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

The article is misleading in that they didn't return to the real formula after the New Coke debacle, as they switched to high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar.

Posted by: 1995hoo | October 19, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Once again, Big Brother steps in.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | October 19, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Try this experiment. Put a tooth in coke for a month and see what you get.

Posted by: katman13 | October 19, 2009 6:08 PM | Report abuse

smaller portions is a great alternative.

But we all know Coke will make the smaller cans the *same price* as today's cans and will likely raise the price of the current can (20oz). Big win for Coke and a better social image that the gov't will help promote.

FYI, that's the way it works in Europe (and everyone buys the smaller cans, thus helping Coke globalize their production lines). Go figure.

Posted by: recharged95 | October 19, 2009 6:08 PM | Report abuse

Consider the cost of the beverage relative to toe cost of the container.

The new 7.5-ounce can contains 37.5% as much as the 20-ounce bottle or 62.5% as much as the 12-ounce can.

Will the new 7.5-ounce can retail for 37.5% as much as the 20-ounce bottle or 62.5% as much as the 12-ounce can?

Obviously Coca Cola is thinking in terms of single-serving containers, and presumes people will pay more per ounce for a smaller amount/container and the satisfaction that they’re getting fewer calories.

Interesting that they won't offer Diet Coke in the new size.

Coca Cola has another questionable entry in the market – the new 1.75-liter bottle that resembles the original 6.5-ounce bottle. Neat idea, but an inch or so too tall to fit on any of our refrigerator shelves. (Of course, we could adjust a shelf, but that would screw up other shelf heights.)

Oh well – that’s progress.

Posted by: carolinacynic | October 19, 2009 6:10 PM | Report abuse

They already had a 100 Calorie can. They're just trying to adjust the appearance to make it seem bigger.

Posted by: hesaid | October 19, 2009 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Guess you could sell it at 7-Eleven and call the it the ONE GULP

Posted by: kare1 | October 19, 2009 6:24 PM | Report abuse

The thing is, the best deal is still the two-liter bottles. Are they going to cut the price to 50 cents? less for the same price, I don't think so.

Posted by: gbooksdc | October 19, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

I can't wait for the new, half-size cigarettes.

'cause if its half-size, it's healthy, right?

The tax on these uniquely hyper-marketed empty calories can't come soon enough.

Posted by: DupontJay | October 19, 2009 6:28 PM | Report abuse

While 20 oz is "standard" in these times of widespread obesity, 7.5 oz is still more than the 6.5 oz that came in the original coke bottles.

I'd rather buy Mexican Coke, though-- made with real sugar!

Posted by: alarico | October 19, 2009 6:42 PM | Report abuse

A brilliant move by the Coke marketing people, now instead of drinking one 20 ounce bottle of soda, people will drink three 7 ounce cans, pay twice as much and actually think that they are dieting....


Posted by: wolfcastle | October 19, 2009 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Couple Thoughts:

First, sugary foods do not make for an obesity "epidemic." Sugary foods and sitting on your butt all day will. Don't want fat kids? Take away the PS3 and get them to join a soccer team.

Second, personally I drink Coke Zero. Tastes the same to me and, while I have no predisposition to becoming overweight, I know I can do without the empty calories. But regardless, I can't remember the last time I actually finished one. I'm always left with an oz. or two after the satisfaction wears off. Gotta love the law of diminishing marginal utility. But if I can get more servings for the same price and not have leftovers wasted, I'm all for it.

Posted by: Rainier1 | October 19, 2009 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Good idea.

Now if they'd just use real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, I could actually drink it.

Posted by: tmit | October 19, 2009 7:04 PM | Report abuse

katman13: You're supposed to swallow Coke, not hold it in your mouth for a month. Burying a tooth for a month in almost any food, salt, etc. will damage it. Put a tooth in your stomach acid for a month and then try to find the tooth. That's what brushing is for.

Seriously, a recent NPR report on a proposed tax of 1 cent per ounce for soft drinks met with an industry claim that billions of dollars would be lost, workers would be laid off, etc., if such a tax is enacted. Yet here we have another example of the fact that soft drinks such as Coke cost almost nothing to make, and have an extremely high mark-up for retail. The industry that warns of consumer backlash about a few more cents doesn't tell you that they have jacked up the price of soft drinks without much concern for consumers.

Posted by: Bookbinder | October 19, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Hey, ryburn, how about if we let just let individuals make decisions for themselves to live their lives as they see fit?

Or, in addition to knowing what's best for me insofar as my choice of beverage, do you also know what transportation I should use, how I should heat my house, and which lightbulbs are OK for me and which ones aren't?

I have a pretty good feel for the answers to those questions for me. I don't remotely presume to know what's best for you.

Posted by: asdf2 | October 19, 2009 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Products like Edy's ice cream and coke are coming in smaller packages but this doesn't seem to guarantee a smaller price. I wonder if a 6 pack of the new coke cans will cost the same as the old ones. If the food and drink industry really cared about the population's health, they might consider lowering prices while promoting new, "healthier" options.

Posted by: sh15 | October 19, 2009 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Remember how yogurt used to come in 8-oz containers? And then, practically simultaneously, ALL the companies that distribute dairy products introduced 6-oz containers. And then 8-oz containers disappeared from the shelves. But -- for some reason I can't put my finger on -- those 6-oz containers now sell for the same price that the old 8-oz containers sold for.

It's probably healthier. For the balance sheets of those companies, that is.

Here's a prediction: diet Coke, which already contains zero calories, will also come out in the new shrunken containers. And guess what? The old 12-oz containers will vanish from the shelves and -- wait for it! -- the new ones will end up costing as much as the old ones.

Posted by: donnolo | October 19, 2009 8:04 PM | Report abuse

A soda tax makes sense.

Some folks are saying "oh, but everyone should be free to make their choices!". Yes, of course they should be. At the same time, the price of a product should reflect its actual cost -- and some of those costs aren't factored into just the manufacturing side of the equation.

I have no problem paying a little extra when I purchase a soda -- especially if it's going to provide a social good like health care.

As far as the smaller portion goes, good for Coke. I also agree with the commentator who says they should use real sugar for a change. Pepsi did it for a while and it improved the taste of the product.

Posted by: JPRS | October 19, 2009 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Misleading article. They have had 8oz 100 calorie cans out for a long time. So they are dropping it to 7.5oz which has only 90 calories? Big deal, they will still offer and people will still buy 20oz bottles or 2liters. These cans won't keep you from getting fatter, they will just cost you more. Article is a joke, makes you wonder if she was paid to write that crap.

Posted by: rdubbs | October 19, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

So.. smaller portions, yet more of them..

...and less overall product, a whole can per pack to be exact. Do they charge the same?

IF there's no obesity tax, this is a rip off and a fine marketing strategy for coke to make more money off of catering to your concern for your self image.

IF there IS a tax, then that's complete BS because I chug them and I'm still scrawny. No cigarettes required.

Posted by: Crucialitis | October 19, 2009 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Total BS. Want to keep from getting fat? Open a can of Coke, any size. Take a sip and pour the rest down the drain.

Posted by: fudador | October 19, 2009 8:25 PM | Report abuse

That can is just enough to make you thirst for some coke.

They need to hire me, I can make better decisions than that.

Posted by: alstl | October 19, 2009 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Almost all Coke and other soft drinks sold in this country in the 40's and 50's was sold in six-ounce returnable bottles. That was enough for us all then. Twelve-ounce returnable bottles were sold, but few people bought them.

In the last year or two, most of the ice cream companies reduced the size of their packages from half-gallon (4 pints) to the three pint size they now sell. They charge the same for the smaller package that they charged for the half-gallon size. This seems to have been a ruse to raise their revenues.

Posted by: esch | October 19, 2009 9:10 PM | Report abuse

I have a 44 ounce coke most days of the week, so don't care what they do with those little bitty cans.

(I don't eat chocolate, pie, ice cream or candy. A big coke is my one vice, and government -- keep your hands off. If people are too lazy to control their calories, it's not your job to take care of them.)

Posted by: kls1 | October 19, 2009 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Does the smaller can cost the same as the present size can? Perhaps it costs MORE since it is now a DIET drink, so to speak---fewer calories than the older model.

Posted by: janye1 | October 19, 2009 10:03 PM | Report abuse

Coke changed it's formula in 1985 because they were planning to switch from sugar to corn syrup. They figured nobody would notice when they introduced Coke "Classic." It was different, but nobody'd had a real Coke in so long they didn't notice.

Coke... It's disgusting.

Posted by: Dolmance | October 19, 2009 10:07 PM | Report abuse

I don't think this will be effective unless they offer a favorable price point, which I doubt they will. If it costs about the same as 12 ounces, I don't think people will bite. I think this is mainly about PR. Particularly given the history that soda companies switched us from 12 ounce cans to 20 ounce bottles so they could raise the price. At least that's my cynical view. Now everywhere you go, they only have 20 ounce bottles. I don't want a 20 ounce bottle. I am not 75% more thirsty today than I was when I first started buying sodas. I just want a 12 ounce can.

Posted by: cliffmerrell | October 19, 2009 10:12 PM | Report abuse

This article is ridiculous. 12oz cans or 20oz bottles are not being replaced. The small cans are nothing new, as they already have 8oz cans. Most importantly, the calories are no different!! You are still getting 12 calories per ounce on average, same as a 20oz bottle, same as a 12oz can. This is PR BS.

Posted by: rdubbs | October 20, 2009 2:34 AM | Report abuse

In the '50s and '60s, we drank the 6 oz. bottles and we weren't obese. We drank them as a treat, never as part of a meal.

A guy we met went to France over the summer to stay with a former roommate who's living there. He was shocked at how small the plates and portions were as well as how they never snacked. Even the French McDonald's had only one size of French fries: small. In 16 days, he lost 15 pounds.

Posted by: fran426 | October 20, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

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