Coca-Cola has been paying money to researchers to promote soda as a healthy part of snacking, according to new reports.
During the month of February 2015, several health writers wrote columns on healthy snacking, in honor of American Health Month. These reports, written by trusted authorities, appeared on several media outlets including national sources. Each one of these articles suggested Coca-Cola or other sodas as a drink to help support good eating habits.
These actions suggest that food companies are active in supporting research that will help cast their products in a good light, potentially boosting sales. Although Coca-Cola remains the largest soda manufacturer in the country, the company has seen sales fall significantly in the last few years, as Americans reduced their intake of sugary beverages. The company is not denying that they pay experts to promote their products, comparing the practice to product placement contracts with movie companies.
"We have a network of dietitians we work with. Every big brand works with bloggers or has paid talent," Ben Sheidler, a spokesman for Coca-Cola, said. He would not reveal to reporters how much the company pays nutrition experts to report good news about their soda.
The recent reports from nutritionists include mentions of per-portioned deserts, including packs of almonds, as healthy snacks. They also recommend mini-cans of the sugary treat to accompany eating between meals. The reports suggested the consumption of mini-cans of the beverage as a way of controlling calories. Although drinking small cans may result in less sugar being ingested by consumers, the cost of these drinks is higher per ounce than 12-ounce cans, resulting in higher profits for the company.
"Companies want to be part of the solution to issues like obesity and health and the registered dietitian has the knowledge and expertise to guide companies to make smart decisions about the future of the food industry and to find ways to develop products suitable for a balanced lifestyle," Sylvia Meléndez Klinger, a health professional partner of the Coca-Cola company, said.
Pepsi-Co, the largest competitor for Coca-Cola, has undertaken similar actions, including paying food experts to talk about the health benefits of Tostito and Frito-Lay chips sold by the corporation. Nestle, a manufacturer of chocolate bars, had an executive talk about infant nutrition, and the American Pistachio Growers quoted a nutritionist for the New England Patriots promoting their product.
The reports state that authors are consultants to Coca-Cola, or that the opinions expressed are solely those of the nutritionist. However, the pieces are frequently carried by hundreds of thousands of media outlets and Web sites, spreading the idea to millions of readers.
"I absolutely think that I provided valuable information," Robyn Flipse, a dietitian who wrote a sponsored article for Coca-Cola, said.
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