Letter to the Editor: Companies should never apologise for making products people enjoy

Sir, The key (if unintended) message of Alan Rappeport’s analysis of Coca-Cola’s response to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “anti-obesity” measures is that corporate appeasement doesn’t work (“Out for the calorie count”, January 26). Announcing “Our products are bad for you, so we’re reducing package size” is hardly a winning PR strategy. Furthermore, his rhetoric obscures that point. High-calorie, sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods are “artery-clogging” and “unhealthy” only when consumed unwisely (like all foods). There are no unhealthy foods, just unhealthy choices.

Mr Rappeport fails to address the consumer freedom-to-choose aspect of Mr Bloomberg’s crusade. There may be an anti-Coke backlash, but is public health professor Marion Nestle the best source for that claim? The relevant public policy issue is not a war between companies and consumers, but rather whether such regulatory restrictions threaten individual liberty, whether state nannying, once launched, can ever be limited. Mr Bloomberg’s war on obesity was preceded by his war on smoking, which began with warnings but soon moved to outdoor smoking bans. Are similar restrictions on soft drinks in New York’s future?

Companies already respond to people’s health concerns, while recognising that people enjoy their products. Coca-Cola offers a large range of sizes (it recently reintroduced the 6 oz can), along with an ever-expanding array of diet drinks and flavoured waters (Diet Coke now outsells Pepsi). McDonald’s moved long ago to provide more nutritional information when consumers sought it – but they did not stop selling Big Macs. Failure to enjoy life is also a risk factor – companies should never apologise for making products people enjoy.

Why have such companies been targeted by activists and politicians? Perhaps because Cokes and Big Macs have become exemplars of capitalism’s successes around the world? Mr Rappeport might have touched upon how that has made these simple pleasures available to billions of people around the world. Business sometimes does make that point. Recall the Coke television advert that sought to “teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”. Companies should do more of this, rather than ever apologising for offering “the real thing”.