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Local retailers say soda consumption is declining

Grocery Manager Jeff Bjerklie stocks Coca-Cola at Blue Goose Supermarket in St. Charles.
Grocery Manager Jeff Bjerklie stocks Coca-Cola at Blue Goose Supermarket in St. Charles.

Those who visit Laz Marquez’s Mexican grill inside his La Huerta Supermarket still enjoy a soda or two with their freshly made tacos.

But with anything they might make themselves? Likely not as much anymore, Marquez said.

“I think when people are in here getting a taco, maybe they’re saying, ‘I’m having tacos. I’m going to treat myself,’ ” said Marquez, owner of La Huerta on Randall Road in St. Charles. “So I’m still selling a lot of soda at the grill.

“But in my store, with the packaged stuff, I’m selling a lot less these days.”

In the years surrounding the onset of the 21st century, American grocers and beverage retailers such as Marquez reported selling record amounts of soda.

Soda still was largely available in most American schools, making it a popular and easy choice for teens and younger children. And the beverages had not yet become a popular target of public officials and others seeking to reduce Americans’ access to an assortment of substances blamed for the rising rates of obesity and associated chronic health maladies, such as diabetes.

But in the years since, the attitudes and behavior of Americans toward soda appear to have shifted. According to data supplied by market research analysis company Euromonitor International, the amount of carbonated beverages consumed by Americans has declined steadily.

In 2004, when soda consumption peaked, Americans purchased 40.9 billion liters of soda, Euromonitor reported.

2004 also was the year in which the U.S. beverage industry agreed to voluntarily remove full-calorie soft drinks from schools, replacing them with “lower-calorie choices,” such as bottled water, milk and 100 percent juice products.

Illinois also banned the sale of soda in schools in 2006.

Soda consumption has declined each year since, typically about 1 to 3 percent annually.

In 2012, Americans purchased 35.4 billion liters of carbonated beverages, a total decline of about 13 percent in the past eight years. The decline may have been even more pronounced among beverages, such as so-called regular soda, containing traditional sweeteners, such as sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

The American Beverage Association has reported that 45 percent of nonalcoholic beverages sold in the U.S. have zero calories. And the overall average number of calories in each beverage serving also has declined by 23 percent, the ABA said.

That trend has spilled into Kane County – and perhaps may have been more pronounced locally than nationally, say local beverage retailers. Marquez estimated his packaged beverage sales at La Huerta have declined about 50 percent in the past 10 years.

And at Blue Goose Supermarket in St. Charles, president Paul Lencioni said he has seen a steady decline in the amount of soda his store has sold. He estimated soda sales declines of about 10 percent from his store’s peak soda sales.

“I get the impression that soda has really fallen out of favor with a lot of people,” Lencioni said.

He pointed to laws and regulations proposed in places in the country that would limit the size of soda available and changing attitudes toward allowing children to consume soda.

But it hasn’t hurt his business, Lencioni said. He noted that as soda has declined, the sales of other packaged beverages have increased just as rapidly.

Bottled water has been a popular substitute, Lencioni said, as well as tea-based beverages.

“Tea has really done well,” he said. “It’s a big seller.”

And he said flavored water products such as Vitamin Water also have proven popular among those eschewing soda.

“It’s not as if soda’s going away, and it’s all tap water now,” Lencioni said. “It’s not like that.”

Nationally, data also has indicated an increase in the consumption of coffee also has served to eat away at soda sales.

Marquez said he believed the decline of his sales can be attributed to what he calls the “big-box effect,” meaning stores such as Walmart, Costco and Sam’s Club offer consumers soda at somewhat lower prices and, in some instances, in larger quantities than his store.

“Costco has 36-packs of Coke,” Marquez said. “I am not contractually allowed to carry those, and people want that, I guess.”

But Marquez also readily concedes that American consumers, including many of his customers, have become more health conscious – even if they may opt for the occasional dietary splurge of a bottle of cola to accompany a quick meal out.

“It seems to me to be an indication of a change in culture,” Marquez said.

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