New study from Nutrition Policy Institute affiliated researchers shows sugar-sweetened beverage taxes have minimal or no impact on retailers, contrary to beverage industry claims

Jul 27, 2020

Retailer attitudes pertaining to excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are shared in a new study by Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) affiliated researchers Kristine Madsen and Jennifer Falbe. In response to evidence that SSBs increase the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, three California cities—Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco—have enacted excise taxes on distributors of SSBs. The beverage industry claims that SSB taxes are harmful to retailers and local economies, and that they lead to taxation of other food products, a so-called “grocery tax.” Madsen's team investigated these claims to see how they hold up..

Researchers conducted interviews in 2018 and 2019 regarding the effect of SSB excise taxes on small and large grocers, corner and liquor stores, and various chain stores, as well as the attitudes of the retailers who sell such products. A random sample of 103 retailers in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco were selected for interviews from neighborhoods ranging from lowest to highest median household incomes. Study findings show, contrary to beverage industry messaging, that 70% of retailers in the three cities experienced minimal or no impact on their businesses as a result of tax. While a minority of retailers expressed reservations about the SSB tax, two-thirds held a favorable view of it. More than half of the retailers in the study said the tax should be enacted by more cities, or even rolled out statewide. Furthermore, no evidence emerged to support the beverage industry's claim that prices of non-SSB foods have been raised as a result of the tax, invalidating the “grocery tax” messaging. The study was published online on May 28, 2020 in Preventive Medicine Reports by lead authors Julian Ponce with the University of California (UC), Berkeley School of Public Health and Haoxuan Yuan with the UC San Francisco Center for Vulnerable Populations (CVP). The study was conducted in collaboration with Dean Schillinger and Ryane Daniels of the CVP; Hina Mahmood and Matthew Lee of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health; NPI affiliated researcher Jennifer Falbe of the UC Davis Department of Human Ecology; and senior author Kristine Madsen of the Berkeley Food Institute and UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

Read the full article in Preventative Medicine Reports here.

By Danielle L. Lee
Author - Director of Communications & Research Engagement