Category Archives: food

What’s the Substitute for Sugary Soft Drinks?

Coca-Cola Photo by Omar Elmokhtar Menazeli via Unsplash - https://unsplash.com/photos/6STZ9m3PUfE
Miller High Life Photo by Waz Lght via Unsplash - https://unsplash.com/photos/ifB8j7QoWe8

Imagine this scenario. Public health advocates campaign for your city to impose a tax on sugary beverages. They claim it will improve the public's health through fighting obesity by making soda and other soft drinks made with sugar more costly to buy, forcing budget-minded consumers to substitute much lower calorie containing beverages. Your city's politicians, always happy to get more tax revenue, go along with their scheme. How do you think consumers of sugary soft drinks in your city will respond?

If you answered they will drink more calorie-laden alcohol-based beverages, you're right!

The latest proof that consumers substitute beer and liquor for sugar-sweetened soft drinks comes to us from Seattle. In December 2017, the city imposed a unique $0.0175 per ounce tax on beverages containing calories from sugar, but not on beverages made with non-calorie-laden sweeteners. For example, consumers buying a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola would pay an additional tax of $0.35 that consumers of the same size bottle of Diet Coke or Coke Zero would not.

At first glance, you might think consumers of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB) would choose to switch to the sugar-free versions of their previously preferred soft drink or to water to avoid having to pay so much more for it.

But that's not what happened according to a peer-reviewed study published in PLOS ONE, which found that the tax "induces substitution to alcoholic beverages". More specifically, the consumers preferred substitute wasn't sugar-free beverages. It was beer, whose sales rose by 7% relative to those of the demographically similar city of Portland, Oregon, which didn't impose a soda tax:

There was evidence of substitution to beer following the implementation of the Seattle SSB tax. Continued monitoring of potential unintended outcomes related to the implementation of SSB taxes is needed in future tax evaluations.

How many competent public health advocates do you suppose would push for new or expanded soda taxes knowing that real life consumers are more likely to shift to alcohol-based beverages with equivalent levels of calories instead of water or low-calorie sugar-free soft drinks? Not only do they miss any benefit from reducing calories consumed among the public, higher alcohol consumption comes with the "higher risk of motor accidents/deaths, liver cirrhosis, sexually transmitted diseases, crime and violence, and workplace accidents" to the public's health.

Then again, if you're a long-time reader of Political Calculations, you could have easily predicted that from our analysis of what happened to alcohol sales in Philadelphia after that city's soda tax went into effect.

Image credits: Coca-Cola Photo by Omar Elmokhtar Menazeli on Unsplash. Miller High Life Photo by Waz Lght on Unsplash.

References

Lisa M. Powell, Julien Leider. Impact of the Seattle Sweetened Beverage Tax on substitution to alcoholic beverages. PLOS ONE 18 January 2022. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0262578.

Baylen Linnekin. Study: Seattle's Soda Tax Has Been Great for... Beer Sales? Reason. [Online Article]. 12 February 2022.

Previously on Political Calculations

Major Grocers Continue Hiking Tomato Soup Prices

Price increases promised by Campbell Soup (NYSE: CPB) CEO Mark Clouse back in December 2021 continued to take hold at grocery stores around the United States since our previous update.

Here is our summary of prices we surveyed at ten major grocery-selling retailers for March 2022. The most important thing to note is that the discounted sale price per 10.75 ounce can ranges from $0.99 to $1.50 per can, as discounted sale pricing below $0.99 per can has nearly all but disappeared in American grocery stores. Our personal finance tip for tomato soup lovers is that if you find it at $0.99 per can, buy it, because you won't see it at that price for long with President Biden's inflation:

  • Walmart: $1.17/each, unchanged
  • Amazon: $0.99/each, unchanged
  • Kroger: $1.25/each, unchanged
  • Walgreens: $1.50/each, unchanged when you buy 2 cans
  • Target: $1.19/each, increase of $0.20 (+20.2%)
  • CVS: $1.79/each, increase of $0.30 (+20.1%)
  • Albertsons: $1.00/each, decrease of $0.25 (-20.0%)
  • Food Lion: $1.00/each, unchanged but discounted from $1.48, an increase of $0.19 (+14.7%)
  • H-E-B: $1.21/each, increase of $0.20 (+19.8%)
  • Meijer: $1.00/each, decrease of $0.29 (-22.5%)

The most notable price increase in this month's update is the 20.2% price increase at Target, the third largest grocery-selling retailer by annual revenue in the U.S. The biggest surprise is the apparent sale of Campbell's Tomato Soup at Albertsons, where shoppers should act quickly to buy soup at the temporary $1.00 per can price level.

But the most interesting price change happened at Food Lion, which didn't change its discounted sale price of $1.00 per can, but did increase its regular shelf price from $1.29 to $1.48 per can. Here's a screenshot of the new higher regular price:

Food Lion: Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup Discounted Sale Prices 9 March 2022

Act quickly, Food Lion shoppers. This stealth price hike is your grocer priming you for what to expect when soup stops being on sale!

As expected, the trailing twelve month average for a can of Campbell's condensed tomato soup rose above the one-dollar per can threshold in March 2022, reaching $1.01 per can and matching its previous record high. American consumers should recognize that all 2021 and 2022's price changes to date for Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup have had nothing to do with Russia's invasion of Ukraine. They've been in the pipeline for an extended period of time now, where you can thank President Biden's inflation for today's escalating prices.

Speaking of which, Campbell Soup's CEO Mark Clouse indicates that inflation is negatively impacting the company's business, though it is still benefiting from the shopping habits consumers developed to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Campbell Soup fell short of market expectations for quarterly revenue on Wednesday, in a sign that demand for its sauces and broths is slowing from the pandemic-led surge.

With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting restaurants across the world, packaged food makers benefited from customers stockpiling at home on frozen meals, snacks, sauces and soups.

However, consumers are now returning to restaurants and former food-ordering habits, which has hit demand for Campbell’s products in recent months.

The company’s organic sales were down 2% in the quarter, as it also wrestled with industry-wide supply chain shortfalls and labor shortages.

Our second quarter was challenging as we lapped a difficult comparison and navigated labor and supply constraints, made even tougher by the Omicron surge,” Campbell Chief Executive Mark Clouse said.

The company indicated it will be able to maintain its full year profit target for 2022, benefitting from more stable levels of worker productivity.

Previously on Political Calculations

Political Calculations' analysis of Campbell's Tomato Soup dates back to 2015, when we first posted historic prices for a No. 1 can of Campbell's condensed tomato soup going back to January 1898! Since then, we've filled in the gaps we originally had in the historic price data and have explored America's second-most popular soup from a lot of different angles. We most recently updated our entire history in January 2022:

That article provides links to our previous coverage, if you want to journey through the tomato soup rabbit hole!

The Price History of Campbell’s Tomato Soup

There are few products as iconic as Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup. Since being invented in 1897 and introduced to American consumers in 1898, Campbell Soup (NYSE: CPB) has produced, marketed, distributed, and successfully sold billions of Number 1 cans filled with condensed tomato soup.

Political Calculations has compiled the price history of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup going back to January 1898. We've tracked the price of Campbell's iconic tomato soup over the past 124 years because of its remarkable consistency as an identifiable product over time. In fact, if you had a time machine and could travel to nearly any point in time from January 1898 to the present, you could likely find a 10.75 ounce size can of Campbell's condensed tomato soup stocked for sale in American grocery stores.

That long-running consistency makes Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup an ideal product to follow to understand how inflation has affected American consumers through its history. Today, we're updating our chart visualizing that history from January 1898 through January 2022.

Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup Unit Price per Can, January 1898 - January 2022 (Linear Scale)

In January 2022, we find the prevailing sale price is moving toward $1.00 per can as discounted sale pricing by U.S. retailers has become both smaller and less frequent than was the case before March 2021, when President Biden's inflation kicked off, fueled by the stimulus checks and advance child tax credit payments he implemented after coming into power.

That's ten times the original price American grocery shoppers paid when the Campbell company began selling their just-invented condensed soup products in 1898. Because its price history spans a full order of magnitude, showing the price history in logarithmic scale gives a better sense of how much and when inflation has affected the prices American consumers pay for Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup.

Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup Unit Price per Can, January 1898 - January 2022 (Logarithmic Scale)

Speaking of what American consumers are seeing when they go shopping for tomato soup in January 2022, many are seeing empty grocery shelves. The following two photos were snapped at the same Walmart location one week apart earlier in the month. They show the regular shelf spaces for where shoppers would expect to find Campbell's tomato and chicken noodle soups. If they're in stock, which you'll see was not the case on 7 January 2022, but were on 14 January 2022, though supplies on the later date were limited.

7 January 2022

Walmart, Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup Shelf, Snapshot on 7 January 2022

14 January 2022

Walmart, Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup Shelf, Snapshot on 14 January 2022

During soup season, Walmart will often have a special aisle-display for these soups. That was not the case on either of the dates these photos were taken. What these photos indicate is that Walmart, the largest food retailer in the U.S. by volume of sales, is having trouble keeping its shelves stocked with Campbell Soup's top two-selling soups. That's not the case at other grocery stores in the same area, which shared one characteristic: their shelf prices for Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup are higher than Walmart's $0.98 per can price.

Update 23 January 2022: Our field correspondent reports the Walmart location whose shelves are pictured above succeeded in more fully restocking its supply of Campbell's condensed tomato and chicken noodle soups.

We're also not seeing the same kinds of discounted sale pricing we observed a year ago. The absence of discounts confirms the presence of inflation for Campbell's tomato soup that wasn't present a year ago.

Previously on Political Calculations

Political Calculations' analysis of Campbell's Tomato Soup dates back to 2015! Along the way, we've filled in the gaps we had in the historic price data and have explored America's second-most popular soup from a lot of different angles.

The Biggest Grocery Store Chains in the U.S.

As part of our usual day-to-day analysis, we sometimes come across fascinating information that deserves attention all to itself. That's the case with today's data visualization featuring the 20 biggest grocery store chains in the United States by number of store locations.

Largest Grocery Store Chains in the U.S. by Number of Store Locations (as of 6 July 2021)

For the visualization, we've omitted several convenience store operators who operate large numbers of stores that are better known as places to refuel motor vehicles than they are as places to buy food and pantry items. We have however included drug store operators because they make a point to regularly advertise these kinds of grocery items in their weekly ads.

By far, the most numerous chains are represented by Dollar General with 17,266 locations and Dollar Tree with 15,685 outlets, which are followed by drug stores CVS with 9,960 outlets and Walgreens with 9,021 stores. Walmart ranks fifth by number of outlets, with 5,342, but ranks first in food sales.

But the largest supermarket operator (which omits Walmart under that classification) is the Kroger family of stores, with 2,742 locations across the U.S.

In the chart, we've highlighted the grocery store chains where you can regularly buy an iconic No. 1 "picnic" (or 10.75 oz) can of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup in red. That omits warehouse wholesaler Costco, which often carries Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup (but not Tomato!). It also omits German-owned discount grocers Aldi and Trader Joes, as well as U.S.-based organic grocers like Amazon's Whole Foods and Sprouts Farmers Market, none of which carry Campbell's Soups (though you can buy it through Amazon's web site).

The biggest surprise for us was to find that Dollar General and Dollar Tree did not sell Campbell's condensed tomato soup in its most iconic packaging either. While these value-oriented grocery stores do in fact sell Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup, they do so in larger volume cans. As a final personal finance tip, if you're looking for the most tomato soup for your money, you'll get the best value in buying the 15.2 and 14.3 oz cans of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup that these discount grocers carry in place of the 10.75 oz can.

Update 29 January 2022: We're happy to report that discount grocer Aldi is indeed a purveyor of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup's 10.75 oz. cans! We've updated the chart above to indicate that status (here is the original version of the chart that showed Aldi's bar as blue rather than red).

Reference

Supermarket News. Top 50 food and grocery retailers by sales. [Online Article]. 6 July 2021.

Turkey Day Leftovers for Breakfast!

We're posting this super early in the morning to help get you off to a strong start in solving a problem you already have. That problem? What to do with the leftovers now crowding your refrigerator from yesterday's Thanksgiving dinner!

Sam the Cooking Guy has a solution for what to do with your leftover stuffing: use it in your breakfast omelette! We've queued up the following video to get you going. Just a quick note before you start watching - he does a commercial for SimpliSafe's home security system during it, so when you get to it at about the 4:47 mark, you can skip past nearly all of it by advancing the video to the 6:06 mark:

Here's the quick list of ingredients in the order they're added to the non-stick skillet (at low heat):

  • Salted butter
  • Leftover stuffing
  • Eggs (he uses three eggs beaten with salt and pepper)
  • Cheese (he uses two slices of American singles)

And that's pretty much it. If you want help with the rest of your leftovers, we have some options listed below from previous Thanksgivings....