Inflation happens, but it’s truly astonishing what has happened to soft drink prices over the last decade or so. I suppose these things stand out more to me than many others because I live in a world of technology where things tend to get cheaper rather than more expensive over time. But if you look at other food items, it doesn’t seem like they’ve gone up nearly as much as soft drinks.

I remember bottles reached 99 cents. This was significant because it marked the first time that soft drinks were cheaper from a vending machine than a convenience store. Once you accounted for sales tax, anyway. I thought that it was this bizarre anomaly that wouldn’t last. The reason, it seemed to me, was simply that the vending machine people like the nice round $1 and would be slower to move it up from $1 to $1.25 than they were from 75 cents to a dollar. But it’s more or less been that way ever since. I guess the vending machines are cheap enough to maintain that they don’t have to charge as much to make a profit. In fact, the disparity has increased. Soft drink prices in convenience stores seem to be around $1.70 or $1.80 most places I look.

One thing that’s been happening more recently, though, is a lot more variance among different brands. It used to be that Coke’s lineup and Pepsi’s lineup would be similarly priced and no matter what you got a bottle of you were paying about the same amount. The first big exception I remember to this was back when Mountain Dew had the Pitch Black flavor that sold abysmally. By the end there, the local convenience store on my way home in Deseret was selling those three for a dollar. It was tough to decide whether or not the price break was worth drinking that awful, awful drink. At first it was, but quickly became wasn’t.

Some of the local convenience stores have been selling the Pepsi Throwbacks at a significantly reduced price. Usually about $1 to $1.79 for the regular Pepsi and Mountain Dew. Unfortunately, I don’t like Pepsi of either variant from a bottle and I find the sugar Mountain Dew to be utterly inferior to the corn syrup stuff. The real steal right now for Mountain Dew fans is Vault. Vault would be Coke’s answer to the product. It’s not as good as Mountain Dew, but isn’t so bad and only costs a whopping 80 cents a bottle out here. I had initially assumed that the low pricing meant that Vault was being discontinued. Vault is Coke’s third try (that I am aware of) at unseating Mountain Dew, intermittently trying with Mello Yello and once a product called Surge.

But they keep making the stuff and selling the Vault stuff. Maybe they figure that if they can just get people to try it that they will realize that it tastes pretty good. Maybe they’re armed with blind taste tests giving them this idea. Honestly, I consider straight Mountain Dew and Vault to be comparable in quality, but I think Vault gets a grading curve because I don’t get it all that often and if I was stuck on a desert island there’s no doubt which I would prefer. What Coke needs to do next time around, if Vault doesn’t make it, is contract out the formula for Kroger’s Big K Citrus Drop product. That stuff is goooood. That it’s a house brand and cheaper is just icing on the cake. I would pay full price for it. This is in stark contrast to any of the other house brand options out there (Mountain Breeze, Mountain Lion, Mountain Lightning, etc…), most of which taste like flattened or watered down Mountain Dew.

We are actually pretty well stocked with soft drink cans. Outside of convenience stores, I’ve become a real bargain shopper for soft drinks at Safeway. They often have buy-two-get-two-free deals or buy-one-get-subsequent-cases-cheaper deals. So whenever they have those, I go crazy. They are encouraging you to buy as many as possible and I comply. It’s not like it’s going to waste. The result is that I keep some half-dozen flavors of stuff in the fridge. I used to try to avoid keeping anything more than one or two cans in the fridge for fear that I would just keep drinking, but I seem to have developed a natural stop-point where after I drink one I don’t want another one for a while. Sometimes I don’t want to drink a whole can at once. I’ve decided that given the cheapness and the fact that unhealthy food is no more wasted dumped into the sink than dumped into my mouth that I can poor out can remainders.

And on one last thing when it comes to soft drink prices, it is enormously irritating how cheap they make those 1-liter bottles. At the local truck stop, they’re only 10 cents more than a 20oz drink. Ten cents. What really had my head exploding was when they were cheaper. I was not as good then as I am now about just throwing away what I don’t want. So I would end up paying more to get less and would get quite irritated with that. Beyond which, those bottles are inconvenient on the whole due to their size. That’s less a factor for me now because I’m driving Clancy’s car which does not have cupholders able to accept a bottle of any size. I think it came out right before that was an absolute necessity.

Category: Market

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9 Responses to Soft Drink Prices

  1. Peter says:

    The convenience stores at the Hess gas stations near me sell Diet Coke in 16-ounce bottles for only a dollar, which is a good 50 to 60 cents less than the more conventional 20-ouncers. Of course this price is before sales tax and the bottle return deposit. I really hate the deposit, a politically correct annoyance … of course I could try for a bit of arbitrage and drive to Michigan, but we know how that turned out for Kramer and Newman.

  2. trumwill says:

    They were selling what I thought were 14oz Coke Zero’s in Cascadia for 99c. Maybe they wer 16oz. That was a great deal cause often a 20oz bottle is too much but I want the recloseability of a bottle over a can.

  3. web says:

    The entire reason for the existence of Surge and Mello Yello (and a few other brand items like Dasani water) for Coke is to take up as much shelf space as possible in stores or venues where they have exclusivity agreements or “carry the entire product line” agreements. Surge/MelloYello block Mountain Dew, Mr. Pibb blocks Dr. Pepper, Fanta blocks most ordinary “single fruit flavor” drinks, and so on.

    It’s the same reason Coke came up with Powerade; to prevent Gatorade or another manufacturer from getting access to the marketplace.

    Every few years Coke tries to buy up a milk distributor or two, in hopes of extending their market scheme there as well. I’m sure you remember the shitfit they pitched at the inconvenience stores back at SoTech about mixing “coke” and “non-coke” products in the various c-store refrigerators shortly after that abominable exclusivity agreement went into effect…

  4. trumwill says:

    Web, you’re right about Dasani and Powerade and whatnot, though in the case of Dasani, bottled water has to be the most profitable drink there is and so they have have multiple motivations.

    I do think that they are interested in making aMt Dewish product that people are interested in buying as well. That’s why they keep trying to retool Mello Yello and scratch the Surge line when it’s not selling and so on.

    On the other hand, maybe you’re right-on with why they’re selling Vault at such a cheap price. Maybe in that case they know they have a product that people won’t pay full price for and are just keeping the shelf-space warm (so to speak) for whenever they figure out a better product (like maybe their newest relaunch of Mello Yello).

    It’s just amazing that Coke can be so incompetent when it comes to creating a comparable product. It’s bad when you’re being outdone by Kroger!

  5. web says:

    Y’know what’s funny, Will? I actually prefer Mello Yello to Mt. Dew. And it actually annoys me that Mello Yello isn’t sold in Colosse.

    Then again, my different tastes having grown up in Melleorki (heck, I still miss Fresca; that drink went really bad when they replaced saccharine with aspartame as the sweetener) may be a part of that.

  6. stone says:

    I pay no attention to the price of soda.

  7. trumwill says:

    Sheila, it becomes more important when you drink 3-5 a day.

  8. trumwill says:

    Web, I don’t think you’re alone in that. Mello Yello is at least distinct enough that it can appeal to someone’s tastebuds as something other than a knock-off. Most store-brand (Citrus Drop excepted) stays at knock-off status. Vault is somewhere in between knock-off and its own thing.

    Have you tried Whiteout? It’s actually not that dissimilar from Mello Yello in the “smooth citrus” sort of way. While Fresca is not generally available in convenience stores in Colosse, I think you can cases at grocery stores.

    Surge was mostly knock-off, though I swear if you drank it with Pepridge Farms cookies, it was really good. I drank Surge regularly due to the aforementioned hostage situation with Coca-Cola and Southern Tech U. I almost never drank it after college and didn’t miss it when it was gone. I do miss it when I eat those cookies, though.

  9. David Alexander says:

    Sheila, it becomes more important when you drink 3-5 a day.

    Interesting, given that I didn’t grow up with a strong soda drinking habit. I feel weird drinking it once a day on a daily basis, and if I’m out, I usually substitute soda with either Snapple, Vitamin Water, bottled water, root beer, or if possible and acceptable, alcohol.

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