Friday, July 6, 2012

The Summer Soda Wars of 2012

Gas stations across America are duking it out for seasonal slurp-drink superiority…and the proportions of battle are starting to get just a little ridiculous

Gas stations in the United States must really, really love the summer months. You’re probably thinking, “yeah, with everybody traveling around for vacation, I bet they make a killing in gasoline sales, right?”

Well, I was actually thinking more along the lines of how much scratch convenience stores make off soda sales from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend. You have to remember, this soda business is a $75 billion a year plus industry…and if the convenience store marketing blitzkrieg around my neck of the woods is any indication, I’d say that gas station proprietors across the States are already well aware of the matter.

Earlier this year, Mayor Bloomberg issued a ban on super-sized soft-drinks in New York City, barring retailers from offering soda cups that hold in excess of 16 ounces. The rationale there was that since NYC has a major problem with fatties - about half of the city is at least overweight, according to most sources - the prohibition of  Big Gulps and Belly Washers was a vital public health issue. The thing is, NYC’s stats really aren’t that different from the national average - per the CDC, about one third of the nation is overweight, while another one third is obese - all in all, making almost 80 percent of the nation bona-fide lardasses.

Of course, soda is a really easy scapegoat for our nation’s monstrous obesity epidemic. After all, it’s cheap, affordable, and widely available. Not only that, but compared to other products, the quantity-to-price ratio for cola is an absurd bargain - in most places, scoring a gallon of soda isn’t just cheaper than a gallon of gas, it’s also cheaper than a gallon of milk. Depending on which brand name you buy, a gallon of pop might even cost you less than a gallon of water.

In that, it makes a whole hell of a lot of sense for gas stations to go all out in terms of limited-time soda deals for the summer months. People are on the road, they’re going to be hot, and no matter how poor you are, you could probably still spring a buck or two for a soft drink. As a result, convenience stores find themselves in a battle for marketplace supremacy, with each gas station doing everything they can to outdo their competitors. The end result, as far as gas station soda sales go? A whole shit ton of profit, stemming from some downright absurd cola marketing ploys.

Let’s begin with RaceTrac, shall we? As part of their summertime stratagem - trademarked as “Sodapalooza,” if that matters to you - the franchise is offering a season long discount on fountain sodas.

For just 49 cents, you can amble into one of their gas stations and pour yourself a 32 ounce soft drink. If you want to get really hedonistic, you can pick up a frozen drink - at the same size - for an additional 40 pennies.

For those of you that aren’t good with liquid measurements (meaning, ostensibly, you went to a public school) I’ll help you with the math. A gallon evens out to about 64 ounces, so that means you can pick up a solid gallon of soda at RaceTrac for less than a dollar. That means that, on this particularly afternoon, for the same amount of money I would’ve spent on a gallon of gas, I could have walked out of the convenience store with three and a half gallons of cola. That’s roughly 224 fluid ounces…a good FOURTEEN liquid pounds of soda for the exact same price as A gallon of gasoline. Hypothetically, for the same amount of money it would take to fill up a lawnmower with gas, you could’ve marched into one of these stores and waddled out with enough Mr. Pibb to fill up a medium sized Jacuzzi.

And if you’re worried about selections, RaceTrac has you covered. In fact, they have you literally buried in soda options, as their fountain covered a span of 30 soft drinks (and, they even give you the option of cubed OR crushed ice to go along with your Mello Yello). Hell, you can’t even see the frozen drinks off to the side, which took up a good half of the wall space. I suppose the thing that absolutely floored me the most was the fact that the gas station actually SOLD 52 ounce cups, which can be yours for the low, low price of just $1.19. And after you finish off your cherry Fanta, perhaps you can use that discarded plastic container as a birdbath, or perhaps even a baptismal pool for your first born. 

QuikTrip, I suppose, is sort of the odd duck out of the three gas stations I recently visited. While they don’t necessarily have a soda-campaign going on for the summer, they’re still hawking the shit out of their fountain colas. And quite possibly, the have the absolute most absurd soda offer out there, providing consumers with cups that literally hold a solid gallon of carbonated beverage.

At 69 cents for a 32 ounce fountain drink, QT’s offer is 20 cents costlier than RaceTrac’s (even though both franchises are selling their frozen fountain drinks at the same price.) While QuikTrip’s soda selections aren’t as vast as RaceTrac’s, there’s still an absolute ton of cola on tap…and it is to be noted that there energy drink selections are much, much more diversified than what RaceTrac is selling ’ya.

I can only fathom the amount of money the execs at QT spend on plastic cups every year. Honestly, I don’t think I have ever seen so many beverage containers of such fluctuating sizes before. And things get remarkably more intricate, as the store offers would-be soda slurpers all sorts of packaging options, including the choice of lids or domes to keep their colas from foaming over in their cars. I guess the question there is how one is to wedge a 64 ounce container in a cup holder, and the engineers at QT seem to have concocted a downright brilliant - albeit, potentially disastrous - solution. You see, the bases - you know, the stems of the cup - are sized as to fit in most cup holders, but to make up for the volume, the cups expand outward from the base by several inches. Essentially, that means the cups aren’t consistently shaped, so most of the store’s containers sort of resemble traffic cones turned upside down. And if you are wondering how the logistics of maneuvering a four pound cola cup while in traffic is supposed to work…uh, not very well, to be honest. 

The undisputed grand champion of seasonal soda sales, however, has to be Kangaroo. Any organization can offer plastic cups at discounted rates, but it takes a true business visionary to come up with an idea this brilliant and outside the box. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you…

…the Roo Cup. Bask in its glow, mortals. Bask in it. 

If the Roo Cup sounds familiar to longtime readers of this site, it should. That’s because the very first thing I wrote about this year was the Roo Cup’s predecessor, a travel-sized container called “The Roo Mug.” The Roo Cup, in essence, works pretty much the same way that one did. For a fixed, upfront amount (in the case of the Roo Cup, a rather exorbitant $7.99), you can waltz into any Kangaroo in America, plop down your container, and fill up your soda mug for the low, low price of just 25 cents. If you’re a dude that just has to grab 44 ounces of cola every time he fills up his car, then it’s a no-brainer that the Roo Cup is a must-buy, since the amount of money you’d be saving on individual beverages probably cancels itself out by the eighth or ninth visit of the summer. And also, good luck on not losing a leg from diabetes within 10 years, too.

The only major drawback I can think of when detailing the Roo Mug is that the Kangaroo soda fountain selections are very, very lacking. While RaceTrac and QT provides you with an easy two dozen plus options, there’s only a handful of beverages on tap at most Kangaroo stores - so if you have a thing for some of the more obscure colas out there, you’ll probably be S.O.L. with your eight dollar plastic pitcher.

While the Roo Cup is designed to be extremely portable, therein lies one of the inherent design flaws of the product. If you’ve ever reused plastic drink ware before, you’re no doubt well aware that, after a few spins in the dishwasher, the taste of mildly melted plastic begins permeating everything you put in it. And since stagnated soda already coats the inside of the cup with some particularly nasty, gunky residue that’s a real mother to wash out anyway, it’s only a matter of months until your Roo Cup starts resembling - and possibly tasting - like a microwaved G.I. Joe action figure.

I’m assuming that a lot of health-conscious people look at these sorts of campaigns and feel their intestines crawling up into their stomachs. Clearly, the fact that people CAN walk into a gas station and pour pounds and pounds of sugary water into their digestive systems for less money than a copy of the New York Times is pretty goddamn ridiculous, and yeah, it’s probably doing a LOT to expedite the nation’s ever-increasing obesity numbers. Many non American-readers will probably look at these deals and simply scoff at the brazen scope of our needless consumption wants: when I hear the term “American excess,” admittedly, it’s pretty hard to NOT think of things like “Roo Cups” and 64 ounce soda mugs.

The concern I have, however, is not about the after-effects of soda consumption (let’s face it, it’s not like our population can really get any fatter than it already is), but rather, the overregulation of food in the U.S. Making sure beef isn’t filled with E.Coli and that Chinese nationals don’t dump lead paint into our apple juice is one thing, but do we REALLY need Big Brother telling us that we can’t have absurdly oversized food portions? Legislators have already passed ordinances in Boston and New York City regulating how much we can enjoy sodas, under the guise of “serving the public health,” and national pressure has goaded many fast food establishments into eliminating extra-large meal offerings. But what about non-fatsos that enjoy gigantic foods and beverages? Just because others can’t control their nom-noming, does that mean that EVERYBODY has to be penalized as a result?

I am unquestionably a junk food, uh, junkie. I love soda, and toaster pastries, and sugar-loaded breakfast cereals, and every Halloween, I’m guessing at least half my nutritional intake stems from either chocolate or marshmallow novelty products. The thing is, I’m actually underweight, and a lot of times, the only way I can get my necessary 2,000 calories a day is through goring on jumbo-sized foodstuffs. For a perceived public good, am I to have my pathways to nourishment blocked, just because some moonbeam granola-eater on the Left Coast has a vendetta against tubbies?

First, they came for soda. Next, it could be ice cream, or chocolate bars, or even Pop-Tarts. A day may come where a man can’t even enjoy his Doritos Locos Tacos in peace, because the feds want to implement some “Demolition Man” legislation on our asses. Tocqueville said America’s greatness could be summarized by its churches; in 21st century America, I think it’s inherent excellence is best demonstrated by its soda fountains, and its fast food establishments, and its sea of Captain Crunch variations.

Just think about it for a minute; America is the only country in the history of the world with a level of food security so high that individuals can be both extremely poor AND extremely fat simultaneously. And if that little nugget of wisdom doesn’t clue you into what “American exceptionalism” entails, I really don’t know WHAT could end up convincing you.


  1. Regarding the gov't regulation.

    Just take a look at the ANTI Smoking groups for a preview of what is to come for junk food.

    Some folks feel that regulation of an industry is OK until it happens to be something you enjoy. You might even have voted for smoking bans, so don't be shocked when your junk food gets banned by someone who thinks they know what's best for you.

  2. Let someone who went to public schools help you with your liquid measurement.1gallon= 128 oz so 224 oz =1.75 gallons. 64 oz= 1/2 gallon.

  3. You seem to be a well educated dude, at least that's what I got from reading this. Your conversions were off, but the way you write is entertaining and you can just tell no dumbass wrote this, which is why it's a little weird that you think just because you're skinny, or "underweight" means that you're healthy and immune to the side effects from eating junk food and drinking drinks with a hundred carbs or more. You have a fast metabolism, which is definitely a hell of a lot better than having a slow metabolism, but no matter what you weigh, if you eat like shit all the time, you aren't healthy. Hell, you could have clogged arteries going to your heart right now, heaven forbid, which is what causes Myocardial Infarctions, or in laymen's terms, a heart attacks. Or maybe you work out all the time and run and are in great shape, who knows, all I'm saying is don't think that just because your parents passed down their skinny genes, you're healthy.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.