ATLANTA: Coca-Cola has announced a new research institute that observers say might help its image in the ongoing debate about obesity in the US and the question of what food and beverage companies should be doing about the issue.
Coke last week reported it was creating the Beverage Institute for Health & Wellness to support nutrition research, education, and outreach.
Donna Shields, a registered dietitian who serves as Coke's senior manager of health and nutrition communications, said the new institute will look at issues of global health and nutrition, not just US matters.
Coke's product offerings have expanded into juices and waters in recent years. Because of that, "health and wellness is logically going to become a broader part of what we look at," she said.
Gary Hemphill, an SVP with Beverage Marketing, a New York-based industry consulting company, said Coke's creation of the institute makes sense from a PR standpoint.
"We believe health and wellness is the number-one consumer trend today," he said. "It's important for companies to get ahead of this."
Jennifer English, founder of the Food and Wine Radio Network, said that while creating the institute helps Coke's image, critics will be watching to see if the studies it produces are self-serving for Coke products. If they are, the company could find itself taking new PR hits in the future.
The institute will be based in Houston where Coke's Minute Maid orange juice line is located. Many soft drink companies have come under pressure in recent years for producing several high-calorie offerings at a time when a record number of Americans are obese.
Besides research, the institute also will communicate with health professionals and consumers about nutrition, physical activity, and health maintenance issues.