Taking the Time for Conversation

Is face to face conversation dead? Not according to over 100 of our OhioBev members. On March 13, our industry held its annual Legislative Day at the statehouse. We arranged individual meetings for our members with 97 percent of the Ohio General Assembly. This effort always pays dividends–conversation still beats impersonal emails, tweets and Instagram likes.

Conversations that flowed from putting legislators together with their local beverage bottlers deepen mutual understanding and add real world perspective to issues. The “cut and paste” media loves to hype the latest “study” linking beverages to (fill in the blank with the scary thing). So, when we have a chance to give legislators the full story of our product innovation, calorie disclosure and dedication to consumer choice, it is a powerful message.

The most visible (and fun) way we demonstrate the wide variety of beverages we make is the popular OhioBev gift bags. Each legislative office gets a gift bag with beverages that are no or low calorie or smaller versions of classics. It’s a tough decision every year deciding what to include and spoiler alert, I like to choose things I haven’t tried yet. This year’s bag contained a new flavor of a classic cola, a mini can of a favorite full calorie soda, a sparkling coconut water, a slimmer lemonade, cold brew coffee and the latest sparkling water flavor from a growing line-up.

We also highlighted our tangible commitments to reduce plastic waste, cut our carbon footprint, conserve vital resources and keep the places we live and work litter-free. Member companies Coke, Pepsi and Keurig Dr Pepper produce aluminum, plastic and glass containers that are 100% recyclable—including the caps. Packaging innovation through lightweighting and reduction saves 100’s of millions of pounds of raw materials.

Local teams also shared company and facility specific examples of sustainable solutions. Anything from fleet management changes (highly efficient truck routing and no “empty” hauls) to plastic bottle pre-forms (huge savings in hauling costs for empty bottles) to water conservation (one of our plants served as a pilot program that went global) and so much more.

Because Legislative Day coincided with real time debates on Ohio’s transportation budget, our members explained business challenges around raising the fuel tax. Not only do our companies own and operate some of the largest commercial truck fleets in Ohio, we also rely on private carriers for certain tasks. We explained how private carriers who deliver our products on longer hauls or bring us raw materials will simply pass along their extra fuel costs to us. We are their customers and we pay “surcharges” for every load of cardboard, aluminum cans, shrink wrap, sweetener, and other components critical to making beverages.

While we do not oppose some fuel tax increase, we have less ability to absorb large increases. Our added costs, whether at the pump to fuel our own trucks or with private carrier surcharges, squeeze already slim profit margins. And our customers—retail partners like grocery stores and restaurants—also operate on tight margins so we cannot easily pass along increased fuel costs. Many legislators were sympathetic to these challenges and appreciated having more information as they finalize the transportation budget.

Overall, the day is a great way to put a local face on iconic brands. It is also the beginning of a meaningful conversation with elected officials, hardworking legislative aides and colleagues.

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