Editor's note: A NY State Supreme Court judge has since invalidated the soda ban. However, Mayor Mike Bloomberg tweeted today that the city plans to appeal the ruling.
March 12, the New York City's ban on large, sugary drinks goes into effect. Last September, I wrote a blog pointing out the policy failures and big brother thinking of this legislation. Today I want to update the issue.
To review, Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC Health Department introduced a law that restaurants are not allowed to sell soda over 16 oz. Retail grocers are not affected, just restaurants. The law's intention is to curb obesity by limiting the number of calories a person can buy at one time. Obesity is (pardon the pun) a huge issue in our country and we should praise the good mayor for addressing it. Their solution, banning large sodas in restaurants, however, is beyond foolish.
The obvious "work around" is that a patron can buy two-16 oz. sodas, one for each hand, but not a single-20 oz. soda. As with most "feel-good" legislation, the opposite effect will occur. The "out-of-control" customer will now drink 32 oz. since they can no longer buy 20. Of course, the pressure on landfills will increase as the same transaction now includes two cups, two lids and two straws.
A customer can also go to a retail grocery store, buy a sandwich and a 2-liter bottle without consequence.
On March 7th, Starbucks announced they would ignore any association with the new law. From Starbucks' point-of-view, their 247-calorie Grande Frappuccino does not fall within this new law. If a restaurant cannot sell a 120-calorie soda, that is their problem, not Starbucks' issue.
According to NBC News: "The company does not think its beverages are subject to the new regulations because many of its signature drinks are milk-based, and most are highly customizable. Starbucks stated it interpreted the new rules not to apply to beverages customized by the customer to be sweet or not, and that specialty coffee and tea drinks are only subject to the rule if they are less than half milk or milk substitute."
We need Starbucks, and the rest of the foodservice industry to stand with NYC restaurateurs and the National Restaurant Association to oppose this ban. The issue is reminiscent of the famous quote from Martin Niemöller, the Protestant pastor, who spoke against Hitler. When they came for the soda, I did not speak out because I did not sell soda ... when they finally came for me, there was no one left to speak for me.
Government regulation designed to address social problems is noble, everyone wants to see our citizenry health. Randomly targeting one sliver of the issue is an assault on our freedom. The foodservice industry and Americans of all political ideologies should protest this legislation. Our constitution did not intend for government to determine WHAT we eat. Regulating safety and wholesomeness is appropriate. The ability to target one specific category, especially when comparable products like sugary coffee drinks have more calories, gives lawmakers too much power.
Mayor Bloomberg may be a good man with good intentions. As a very wealthy man, he may even be above bribery. The next mayor, however, may need the money ... and our society cannot afford that.
Ed Zimmerman is a pizza industry veteran and President of The Food Connector. His almost four decades of foodservice experience includes food manufacturing and distribution leadership, food industry technology, marketing services and restaurant and grocery operations management.