NEW YORK — As criticism over sugary sodas intensifies, Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper are rolling out new vending machines that will put calorie counts right at your fingertips.
The move comes ahead of a new regulation that would require restaurant chains and vending machines to post calorie information as early as next year, although the timetable and specifics for complying with that requirement are still being worked out.
"They're seeing the writing on the wall and want to say that it's corporate responsibility," said Mike Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which advocates for food safety and nutrition.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed a less-stringent amendment that would allow vending operators to post the information on a poster on the side of the machine, Jacobson said. But he said the industry's announcement Monday shows posting calories right on machines is perfectly feasible.
"This would be an important step forward," he said. "Currently, people don't think about calories when they go up to a vending machine. Having the calories right on the button will help them make choices."
The American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc., said the calorie counts will be on the buttons of the machines, which will also feature small decals reminding the thirsty that they can choose a low-calorie drink. The vending machines will launch in Chicago and San Antonio, Texas, municipal buildings in 2013 before appearing nationally.
Without providing specifics, the American Beverage Association said the machines will also increase the availability of lower-calorie and zero-calorie drinks. "We have market research that says consumers really like this — they like choice, they like the ability to make choices," said Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association.
A mock-up of the new machine provided by Coca-Cola showed 20-ounce bottles of its flagship drink and Sprite inside vending machines, with labels on the glass stating "240 calories."
The move also comes as the soda industry has come under increasing fire for fueling rising obesity rates. Last month, New York City approved a first-in-the-nation plan to prohibit the sale of sugary drinks over 16 ounces in the city's restaurants, movie theaters and stadiums. The beverage industry aggressively fought the measure, saying it takes away customer choice.
Vending machines account for about 13 percent of sales volume, a figure that has remained relatively unchanged in recent years, according to Beverage Digest.
Although other factors such as a lack of physical activity and overeating also contribute, soda consumption is often identified for playing a role in rising obesity rates. Last month, the New England Journal of Medicine published a decades-long study of more than 33,000 Americans that showed sugary beverages interact with genes that affect weight, meaning they are especially harmful to people who are hereditarily predisposed to weight gain.