In the world of the morning cola drinker, caffeine is caffeine.
One of the more interesting trends working against the whole health movement has been a slow but relatively steady increase in the number of morning, caffeinated cola drinkers. While research has extolled the health properties of tea, and to an extent, coffee, nothing has yet been said about colas. It simply seems a personal choice -- with a bit of marketing thrown in.
"There has been a trend among the hamburger chains to promote burger sales for breakfast, and the natural beverage complement to the burger meal is soda. It's not coffee," noted Tom Miner, principal of research and consulting firm Technomic Inc., Chicago.
As convenience drives changes in consumption habits, the outlets where convenience foods are available are influencing beverage choices. This is particularly true for breakfast, the one meal of the day for which easy alternatives are sought.
In addition, Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of food service for WD Partners, a design and development firm in Columbus, Ohio, believes a.m. soda drinking reflects the fact that Americans are changing their traditional views about which foods to eat at which times of the day, partly caused by people who work unusual hours, such as night shifts. "It's, 'I'm going to have what I want when I want it,"' Lombardi said.
From a scientific standpoint, cola drinkers are on average prone to fewer jitters than their hot beverage compatriots. Five ounces of regular drip coffee contains from 106 to 165 milligrams of caffeine; a bag of black tea brewed in 5 ounces of water for three minutes creates a 35- to 46-milligram jolt. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola or Diet Coke contains 46 milligrams of caffeine, while 12 ounces of Pepsi and Diet Pepsi contain 38 and 36 milligrams of caffeine, respectively.
The youth market, a growing segment that heavily favors food service, is also driving this consumption. "Young people tend to drink soda, not coffee," Miner said.
The activity is having minimal impact on the soda category, which suffered from flat sales last year. Within food service, morning soda sales are still dwarfed by hot beverage sales in the overall breakfast market, which itself is a small part of the fast-food and restaurant industry.
"Breakfast in food service is less than 20% of the sales volume. We're talking about a real small piece of the business," Miner said.
Instead, food industry analysts said, the important trend to watch in soda sales is the move toward beverages that are considered "better for you," including flavored waters and energy drinks. Just wait until they get put on the menu.