Once, Coca-Cola and sugar went together like peanut butter and jelly. But, as Americans are increasingly concerned with nutrition and blaming Coke in part for the rise of obesity, the relationship has gotten a lot more complicated.
Coca-Cola has essentially taken two approaches to its messy pseudo-breakup with sugar: adding lower-sugar beverages to its repertoire, and convincing guests that sugar isn’t all that bad — at times with sketchy research the company itself funded.
This strategy echoes the work of Big Tobacco in the 1980s, according to Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and the author of the book “Soda Politics.
“First, they attack the science. Then, they fund community groups, promote exercise as a solution, and say they’re self-regulated and don’t need to be regulated by an outside source,” Nestle told Business Insider.
As Coke’s approach to sugar evolves internally, it is influenced by new laws discouraging consumption of sugary beverages and public condemnation of Coca-Cola’s position as the world’s largest retailer of sugary beverages.
Here’s how Coke reached the uneasy and shifting relationship with sugar it has today.