America's fastest-declining soda brands


Americans have learned that while Coke may be "it" and that "nothing else is a Pepsi," drinking a lot of soda has negative health consequences.

That's an obvious lesson, but it's one that has led to not only a drop in sales for Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) and PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP), but also for water to have overtaken soft drinks in 2016 sales. It's been a major fall for some well-loved drinks, which has included some stunning drops for America's fastest-declining soda brands.

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The biggest losers, Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, may seem like healthy alternatives to their full-sugar sister brands, but changing attitudes has led them to being America's fastest-declining soda brands at a time when the overall market for sodas in general has declined steeply.

What's happening in the beverage market?

Americans have finally accepted the idea that soda can harm their heath. That has led to an increase in bottled-water consumption.

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In 2016, each person in the United States drank 39.3 gallons of bottled water, compared with 38.5 gallons of carbonated soft drinks, according to data from Beverage Marketing Corp., Reuters reported. That's a dramatic drop for soda consumption from its heights in the late 1990s and early 2000s of over 50 gallons per person.

"When Perrier first entered the country in the 1970s, few would have predicted the heights to which bottled water would eventually climb," Beverage Marketing Corp. CEO Michael Bellas told Reuters.

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Coca-Cola through the years, Coke soda
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Coca-Cola through the years, Coke soda
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1950s: Teenaged girl with bottle of Coca-Cola. (Photo by George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) *23.03.1912-16.06.1977+Physiker, Raketenforscher, D/USA- Porträt mit Coca-Cola-Flasche- 1963 (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
FRANCE - MAY 01: Centenary of Coca-Cola In France In May, 1986. (Photo by Didier CONTANT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
BOHOL, PHILIPPINES - 1988/01/01: A lemur clings to a coke bottle. . (Photo by Roland Neveu/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Bottles of Coca-Cola, Tab, and Sprite on the shelf of a grocery store in New York City, USA, September 1988. (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO - JANUARY 16: Bottles of Coca-Cola are seen on the shelf at Tower Market January 16, 2004 in San Francisco, California. Coca-Cola is being investigated by U.S. regulators over allegations raised by a former employee that it had inflated its earnings. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO - JANUARY 16: Cans of Coca-Cola are seen on the shelf at Tower Market January 16, 2004 in San Francisco, California. Coca-Cola is being investigated by U.S. regulators over allegations raised by a former employee that it had inflated its earnings. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 20: Bottles of Coca-Cola and Diet Coke are displayed on a shelf in an Associated Supermarket in New York Thursday, October 20, 2005. Coca-Cola Co. said third-quarter profit surged 37 percent, the biggest gain in more than a year, as sales rebounded in the U.S. and demand for Powerade sports (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
PARK RIDGE, IL - NOVEMBER 07: 2-Liter bottles of Vanilla Coke as seen in a grocery store November 7, 2005 in Park Ridge, Illinois. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. has said it plans to discontinue its Vanilla Coke in the US by the end of the year. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 19: A general view of the new aluminum Coca-Cola bottle at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Fall 2009 Collections at Bryant Park on February 19, 2009 in New York City (Photo by Donald Bowers/Getty Images for The Coca Cola Company)
Bottles of Coca-Cola Co.'s Coke brand soda sit on a shelf behind the bar at Smith & Wollensky in New York, U.S., on Monday, Feb. 22, 2010. Coca-Cola Co., the world's biggest soda maker, agreed to buy the North American operations of bottler Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., more than six months after PepsiCo Inc. moved to bring its bottlers in-house to cut costs. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 19: Rita Ora attends photocall to celebrates 100 years of the Coca-Cola Contour Bottle at the Coca-Cola Contour Centenary Bar on March 19, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage)
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Which brands are America's fastest-declining sodas?

In the 1980s, 1990s, and even some of the 2000s, people believed that substituting diet soda for regular counted as being healthy. That made sense on a pure-calorie basis, but it proved to not be true when people began considering what went into diet sodas. That led to a rejection of diet sodas, which knocked the two industry leaders -- Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi -- off their thrones.

In 2016, Diet Pepsi was America's fastest-declining soda, seeing sales slip 9.2%, according to data from Beverage Digest, as reported on by Fortune. That was more than twice the drop for the second-fastest decliner, Diet Coke, which dropped by 4.3%.

The carbonated-soft-drink industry has lost 1.6 billion cases in volume since 2004, according to Fortune, but the news isn't all bad. While sales by volume has fallen, revenue has increased because Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and other soda brands have smartly marketed higher-priced-per-ounce smaller servings to cater to consumers who are concerned about health but still want soda.

Diet soda may come back

While it's unlikely that the growth of bottled water slows down in the short term, it's not impossible to see Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi making a comeback. For that to happen, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo will have to find a way to make their product better for people.

That's a difficult, but not impossible, challenge in a nation where people have swapped smoking for vaping -- essentially trading one unhealthy habit for another that seems like it's a little better for you. Americans probably still want to drink soda; they just need a reason to feel better about doing so.

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Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends PepsiCo. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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