We’ve talked a lot recently about the PR wars over food labeling, but what happens when labels already offer complete transparency and customers don’t like what they see?
Aveyca Price of Georgia recently noticed that her bottle of Powerade contained brominated vegetable oil, a synthetic chemical used to prevent separation in soft drinks that, if consumed in high amounts over a long period of time, can build up in the body and cause serious toxic effects. Oh, and it’s also a flame retardant.
Surprised and concerned that her sports drink contained a chemical so controversial it has been banned in over 100 countries, Price decided to take action.
Because an online petition that received over 200,000 signatures recently helped prompt Pepsico to phase out BVO from its Gatorade sports drinks (although it’s still present in Mountain Dew), Price created a similar petition on Change.org asking Coca-Cola, makers of Powerade, to do the same. Within its first month, Price’s campaign gained over fifty thousand supporters. “Fifty thousand people (signing) within a month is amazing. I’m surprised and I’m glad I have that many people backing me up,” she said.
Unable to ignore such an influx of requests (especially in the face of its largest competitor’s recent action), Coca-Cola responded to the petition with a statement, saying:
“We respect Aveyca’s efforts to bring people together and we admire her personal story. Powerade has an uncompromising commitment to product safety and quality. All of its ingredients, including brominated vegetable oil, comply with all regulations. Per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration , BVO can be safely used in fruit-flavored beverages at permitted levels. Two of the fourteen Powerade trademark ready-to-drink flavors contain BVO – Powerade Fruit Punch and Powerade Strawberry Lemonade…”
Rather underwhelming if you ask us. Perhaps the company was simply trying to alleviate some of the worry surrounding BVO, but it sounds more like it’s saying, “Hurray for you utilizing your right to free speech, but the FDA says it’s fine, so it’s fine. But if it really freaks you at that much, BVO is only in two flavors of Powerade, so just steer clear the of those and calm the hell down.”
Minimizing your consumers’ concerns may not be the best strategy when your largest competitor has just made it publicly clear that it is willing to directly and effectively address identical customer qualms. In a society becoming hyper-aware of what we put in our bodies (with good reason! Hello, flame retardant, remember?), denial, minimization, and “it’s safe – we swear!” PR plays usually fall flat.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see health-conscious Powerade drinkers switching to Gatorade until Coke steps up to the plate. Truly health-conscious consumers are probably also wary of colorings, flavorings, etc., and likely skip processed drinks all together, but one step at a time, right?