Thursday, September 21, 2017

Retailers get defensive about pop prices

I stopped the other day at a place to get myself something to eat – a hamburger and Coca Cola (I took a pass on the fries) – and wound up getting into something of a quarrel with the manager over the price.
There might have been fewer questions if all posted the pop tax data as clearly as this McDonald's franchise did. Photograph by Gregory Tejeda
Admittedly, when I heard how much was being charged, I tried to question the cost. Which caused the manager to go into a long diatribe about how this “damned tax” on pop and other sweetened beverages was causing him to jack up his own prices.

ACTUALLY, I WAS curious about the cost of the burger, and it took me a couple of minutes before I was able to cut off the manager and inform him I wasn’t questioning the cost of the soft drink.

He eventually gave me the straight answer about the burger price, and it seems the high price of the bill was due to the hamburger. Which means that, from my perspective, I now know of a place I won’t try to eat at again.

It was expensive, a bit too much for just a burger and Coke!

But what caught my attention about the incident was the quickness of the fast-food franchise manager to come to the aid of his cashier and engage in such a quarrel. I sense that many people are complaining about pop prices and are haranguing the hired help about the tab (and no, I don’t mean the soft drink Tab, which I honestly can’t recall the last time I saw it for sale anywhere).

ARE RESTAURANTEURS GETTING that touchy that they feel the need to defend themselves against complaining customers, many of whom admittedly are just cheapskates who likely will look for any excuse to complain about the price? Which is how I perceive the We Ask America survey showing 85.94 percent of people wanting the tax repealed, and 77.59 percent less likely to vote for county board President Toni Preckwinkle's re-election.

It is with incidents such as this in mind that I am not surprised to learn that the Can the Tax Coalition is going around citing statistics saying that beverage sales are on the decline by 47 percent in Cook County.

I’m sure the coalition, which gets its money from the American Beverage Association and other support from the Illinois Food Retailers Association, wants us to believe that this is a matter of people making special trips to surrounding counties or out-of-state (if they live near the Illinois/Indiana border) to buy their pop.

Some of it may be.

BUT I ALSO wonder if some of it a matter of people deciding that with the potentially significant boost in price due to the penny per ounce tax on such beverages, perhaps there just isn’t as much of a need to consume so much carbonation.

Which would mean that the county tax may be serving one of its stated goals – to help boost the public health by reducing the level of sugar that people consume. Although I’ll be the first to admit that the purpose of any tax is to raise revenue – and not to reduce consumption of anything.

Not even the taxes that get assessed on tobacco products that can make the price of a package of cigarettes so absurdly high that it’s a wonder anybody bothers to smoke.

But they still do!

NOW I DON’T know for sure how much of this so-called decline in pop sales is due to people just drinking less pop. It may be wishful thinking on my part. I’m also sure that some people will start thinking of their consumption of carbonation as something resembling a revolutionary statement.

Which is sad, if that’s really the biggest issue they have to get so worked up over.

My point here is to say I’m skeptical about this latest statistic, which the pop industry lobbyists touted on Wednesday as part of their effort in coming weeks leading up to the Cook County Board’s finance committee reviewing a measure to repeal the tax.

We’re going to get a lot of rhetoric from all sides of this equation from people who claim they’re looking out for our personal freedoms, but only care about them so long as they match up with their own financial interests!


No comments: