All is not looking bubbly for The Coca Cola Company these days.
The company's stock sank on Tuesday after it announced lower than expected growth for 2013, most of which came from declining sales of its carbonated beverages. And that's not just a dip. It's a precipitous, secular decline, as the Huffington Post's Jillian Berman points out -- the market research firm IbisWorld predicts that per capita soda consumption will keep sliding downward, with no end in sight.
The coming collapse has many causes: A sustained public health campaign against sugar-sweetened beverages, which the industry says contribute "only" 6 percent of the average American's calorie intake (that's still a lot!). An onslaught of state and local attempts to tax non-diet sodas, which a recent study has shown will not have the dire economic effects beverage makers claim. The advent of other shelf-stable caffeinated beverages, like Starbucks's Frappucinos and Energy Shots, that serve as effective replacements.
Coke is aware of its problems. To counter them, it plans on spending more on advertising, with an extra $1 billion over the next three years. Oh, and it's making a play at self-disruption through a partnership with Green Mountain Coffee that will allow people to cold-brew their own soda at home, because apparently "customization" is all the rage these days.
Still, it's not prepared for the bottom falling out from under it. Despite the company's buying spree of healthier brands -- from Odwalla to Minute Maid to vitaminwater -- soda still accounts for 75 percent of its global volume. Coke has about 41 percent of the U.S. soft drink market, which is still 68 percent sugary:
That's hardly a reassuring position when sales of that big red category are falling off as quickly as they are:
Now, contemplate Coke's chief rival, PepsiCo. It's got similar exposure to our vanishing taste for sodas, but there's a whole other side to the business: Snacks, which account for about half the company's sales, and have been selling more robustly of late. Carbonated soft drinks make up only about a quarter of PepsiCo's U.S. sales, compared to 60 percent at Coke. Despite activist investor Nelson Peltz's crusade to get the company to split them apart, CEO Indra Nooyi has stubbornly refused. "Decoupling our beverage and snack businesses in North America would significantly reduce our relevance to our customers," she points out.
That's probably a smart move, given that there's no guarantee Americans will spend the same amount of money on branded beverages in the future -- but they're not likely to stop snacking anytime soon.