Capturing the Swing Vote

Sarah Theodore

In this very political month, you might be hearing a lot of talk about swing voters. In the past, soccer moms were the voters politicians most wanted to swing to their side, and according to a session I attended at last month’s InterBev show, they still are the swing voters beverage companies want to woo.
The session reported the results from a survey of parents regarding the new school vending guidelines developed by the American Beverage Association, the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association. Not surprisingly, moms are the primary decision-makers regarding food and beverages, making women ages 35 to 55 the voters to win on hot-button topics such as school vending, product safety and health issues.
According to the survey, parents are concerned about the food and beverages their children consume, but in varying degrees depending on how old their children are. When it comes to which products should be available to children in certain age groups, middle school aged children are viewed as the most vulnerable, said session presenter Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies, which conducted the survey. It’s not that parents are less concerned with younger children — those kids are seen as impressionable and completely off-limits. Middle school aged kids may be older but they are still viewed as being quite impressionable, and boys in particular are seen as less able to make good choices for themselves. Older kids, however, are seen as better able to make decisions on their own. "High school is a very different conversation," Weigel said. Overall, 66 percent of parents gave the new guidelines a favorable response because parents advocate moderation and want their kids to have options while learning moderation and control, Weigel said.
The beverage industry, and the soft drink industry in particular, have fought a long battle with those who have attempted to make it a scapegoat for childhood obesity, and I have heard a few, isolated grumblings from those who believe the new vending guidelines amount to capitulation. But interestingly, the plan developed this spring might actually have positioned the beverage industry as a leader in the effort to maintain a full range of product options while providing a solution schools and parents can live with. The Walt Disney Co. announced a plan last month that is very similar to the ABA’s guidelines. It will limit the types of products on which it will license its name and characters to those with restrictions on calories, fat and sugar. In addition, a number of food companies have followed the beverage industry’s example, creating their own guidelines with the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association regarding the sale of snack foods in schools.
Sneak Peek
The Best Packages of 2006
Category Focus — Organic beverages
Beverage R&D — Soy ingredients
Distribution — Winter weather driving

Bottler of the year
Category Focus — Juice & juice drinks
Beverage R&D — Product development/ Flavor usage survey
Packaging — Closures