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With the Rise of Soda Taxes, Will 'Soda' Conquer the Country?

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With the Rise of Soda Taxes, Will 'Soda' Conquer the Country?

Crain's Chicago Business August 11, 2017
EconomicsOther

The generic term for a soft drink is strongly regional, as the map above from Pop vs. Soda illustrates. There are actually three common terms: "soda" in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, parts of Florida, and California, Arizona, Hawaii and St. Louis; "pop" in the rest of the northern U.S.; and "coke" in the South.

The rise of taxes on sugary drinks, labeled the "soda tax" because of the concept's origination in the "soda" zone and the presence of national media there, is sowing some disruption in this configuration.

The rise of soda taxes and other trends make me wonder if the term "soda" will ultimately become nationally dominant, at least among upper middle class society, which is seceding from regional cultures.

For example, Cook County recently implemented a soda tax. Chicago is in the "pop" zone, but we see the Chicago media is torn about what to call the tax, with variations including "soda tax," "soda pop tax," and "pop tax."

These are actually the search results for "pop tax" and "Chicago." I didn't even include the word "soda" in the search. Right now my impression from reading the Chicago news is that the media is predominantly calling it a soda tax. I don't notice that news outlets have created a style guide-type standard for this as publications like Crain's Chicago Business and the Chicago Tribune have used different terms in different headlines.

The rise of soda taxes and other trends make me wonder if the term "soda" will ultimately become nationally dominant, at least among upper middle class society, which is seceding from regional cultures.

The soda tax is only one such trend. Sales of sugary drinks have been in decline for some time anyway, down for over a decade straight to a 40-year low. Not just sweetened soft drinks, but diet soda has also seen a decline in sales.

Conversely, there has been a big increase in the consumption of sparkling water aka seltzer water, which is often called—wait for it—soda. I have never heard anyone refer to club soda or any type of carbonated water product as pop or coke. This is already known as just soda.

The rise of sparkling water—witness the boom in products like Sodastream—also suggest that the term soda might soon be on the rise nationally, even if, ironically, one of the leading brands of soda water is Wisconsin-based La Croix.

Language is dynamic and there's already at least one precedent for a takeover by "soda." Until recently, people in Boston used the term "tonic", which has now been almost entirely replaced by "soda," except among the elderly.

Am I saying that soda is destined to conquer America? No, but it's something that's worth keeping an eye on.

This piece originally appeared in Crain's Chicago Business

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Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. He blogs at Urbanophile.com.

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