The big gulp: consumers avoid extremes in soda sizes

Aug 22, 2008

As portion sizes have increased, Americans' waistlines have expanded. And as a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research demonstrates, consumers are tricked into drinking more soft drinks when retailers eliminate small drink sizes.

No matter what the volume of the soft drink, customers tend to avoid the largest and smallest options, according to authors Kathryn M. Sharpe, Richard Staelin, and Joel Huber (all Duke University). "Our basic premise is that consumer purchases are altered by the portfolio of drink sizes made available," the authors explain.

Fast-food restaurants, in an attempt to boost profit margins, have eliminated smaller drink sizes and added even larger sizes. The authors believe these policies have led to a 15 percent increase in the consumption of these high-calorie drinks. "Consumers who purchased a 16-ounce drink when a 12-ounce drink was available later chose a 21-ounce drink when the 12-ounce drink option was removed, since now the 16-ounce soda is the smallest option," they write. "This effect also occurred at the large end of the spectrum; people who purchased a 21-ounce drink when the 32-ounce drink was the largest size available moved up to the 32-ounce drink when a 44-ounce drink was added to the range of drink sizes available."

By adding the 44-ounce option, the restaurant is able to shift the demand curve upward, even though the authors believe customers still want 12-ounce drinks.

The researchers go on to simulate policy directions for slimming America's waistlines. Their models show that for flat taxation of soft drinks to reduce consumption by 10 percent, it would need to be 28 cents per drink and would reduce corporate profits by at least 7 percent.

But by simply reversing the trend they started in the first place, retailers could do their part to improve public health. If they eliminated the largest drink size and brought back the smallest, retailers could help curb soft drink consumption with only a slight reduction in profit (less than 2 percent).

Source: University of Chicago Press Journals

Explore further: Teen suicides by hanging on the rise across U.S.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sanitation scores in India have room for improvement

Feb 11, 2015

Sanitation scores, conferred on each of India's 421 largest cities by the national government, set a useful benchmark, say water-resources experts in Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Calcium loss turning lakes to 'jelly'

Nov 18, 2014

New research on a number of Canadian lakes show that historical acid deposits as a result of industry have greatly reduced calcium levels in the water - dramatically impacting populations of calcium-rich ...

Recommended for you

No link between psychedelics and mental health problems

6 hours ago

The use of psychedelics, such as LSD and magic mushrooms, does not increase a person's risk of developing mental health problems, according to an analysis of information from more than 135,000 randomly chosen people, including ...

Antibodies to brain proteins may trigger psychosis

7 hours ago

Antibodies defend the body against bacterial, viral, and other invaders. But sometimes the body makes antibodies that attack healthy cells. In these cases, autoimmune disorders develop.

Stigma of mental illness in India linked to poverty

8 hours ago

The stigma surrounding people with severe mental illness in India leads to increased poverty among them, especially women, according to new research led by Jean-Francois Trani, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

patnclaire
1 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2008
Left unsaid was the waste of unconsumed beverage. If I want a 20 oz soda and have to by a 32 oz then I am liable to leave some.
My mother raised me to eat everything because she grew up in the depression. Modern American mothers should raise their kids that you don't have to eat everything...kids in China are not starving.
A good research study would randomly pick 440 restaurants and on the same date/time period, record how much drink was left.
westonprice
not rated yet Aug 24, 2008
"with only a slight reduction in profit (less than 2 percent)". That's a lot for food retailers. Probably too much to swallow.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.