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Mexican Obesity Fears Failing to Impact on Soft Drinks

17 May 2013

Mexico has a population of 115 million people, with more than a quarter under the age of 15. It also ranks as the country with the highest rate of childhood obesity in the world, and second-highest in adult obesity. Diabetes is the number one killer here and this chronic health condition is a direct result of the obesity problem. Solving this weight issue is stated as being one of Mexico’s top priorities and, as a direct result, the government has introduced new nutritional guidelines.  Preschool and elementary students are now only officially allowed water in school. Older children have access to a wider range of pre-determined sweet beverages, but only in small servings. These new guidelines and general public fears should be dramatically shifting the focus of Mexico’s soft drinks industry in favor of low calorie drinks and packaged water, but they are not. According to Canadean research, packaged water volumes grew by just 2% last year, only marginally ahead of carbonates and well behind juice based drinks, iced/rtd tea and coffee drinks and sports drinks.

Packaged water actually suffered a significant slowdown in its annual rate of development, after volumes rose by over 9% in 2011. However, the institutional sector, which includes schools, maintained a similar level of development in both years. But at just 70 million liters volumes here remain tiny in a national market that reaches almost 4 billion liters. In comparison, sales of carbonates through institutions did actually fall in 2012, but only by a minute amount. Moreover, although consumption of such drinks is officially discouraged in schools, in reality, the observation of the nutritional guidelines varies by establishment. Some have adopted and strictly enforce the regulations, while others do not follow them at all. There is also the problem that all manner of food and beverages can be readily bought from stores and unlicensed sellers in close proximity to these institutes.

One related side effect of the nutritional guideline policy is that there has been a trend in favor of smaller pack types. Increased usage of 20cl and 25cl cartons and glass bottles, for example, significantly exceeded total soft drinks market growth last year as it did for 25cl, 33cl and 50cl PET bottles. Producers are actively following a strategy of developing smaller packages. Children may still be consuming drinks with high calorie content, but at least this is being undertaken in smaller measures.

An alarming feature of this obesity concerned nation, however, is that low calorie drinks are actually losing public support. They now account for just over 6% of total soft drinks volume (excluding packaged water), down from almost 7% in 2011. This is a very low contribution indeed. Canadean can reveal that this compares with a 27% share for low calorie soft drinks just north of the border in the United States, and over 20% across Western Europe. Low calorie drinks are not only losing market share in Mexico, they are actually shedding volume. Despite the obesity issue, low calorie content is not generally seen as a valuable attribute in many soft drinks. This suggests that consumer product education is in serious need of re-enforcement if the country is to successfully combat the issue of obesity once and for all.

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