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The illusion of diversity: visualizing ownership in the soft drink industry (msu.edu)
20 points by SandB0x on Aug 20, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 20 comments

Three firms control 89% of US soft drink sales [1]. This dominance is obscured from us by the appearance of numerous choices on retailer shelves. Steve Hannaford refers to this as "pseudovariety," or the illusion of diversity, concealing a lack of real choice.

If you assume that people have the same values as the author and want to establish their class credentials by buying from a minor player, then it's proper to conclude that the only reason they buy from the big three is that they have no other choice. If you assume that most people follow their friends' tastes, are responsive to advertising, and don't care much about the minor differences in taste between one sugary drink and another of the same kind, then you can restore common sense and say yes, if there's a beverage on a shelf in a store with a price on it, then anyone who walks by it has a real, non-illusory choice between that beverage and another one. They drink Coke and Dr Pepper because their social norms don't oblige them to take a symbolic stand against the financial dominance and boring aesthetics of major corporations. Their desires and norms tell them to drink a mainstream, ubiquitous brand.

Link to the deep zoom version (opens faster): http://zoom.it/A8JK#full

Funny, the situation is actually better than I imagined. I had always assumed that Pepsi and Coke owned everything; depending on my mood I would think that one or the other owned Dr. Pepper, too.

Although this is a lovely visualization, the data seems somewhat limited. It omits common brands I see in every supermarket* (Pritty, Suitty, Doble Cola, Terma, Speed Unlimited) even ones that I know belong to Coca-Cola (Inka Cola). And I don't see any firms whose names are in other than English or Spanish. Perhaps "Soft Drink Industry Structure" here really means "US Soft Drink Industry Structure" or perhaps even "Lansing, MI, Soft Drink Industry Structure"?

Such severe limitations in scope should be mentioned up front, not relegated to a "methods" section.

(* every supermarket in the rich parts of Buenos Aires, that is.)

Okay, I understand how this is a problem with news. I really do.

But with soda? Isn't the total variety of offerings more important than than variety of companies?

> Isn't the total variety of offerings more important than than variety of companies?

Nope. Imagine, as a nonsensical example, that Coca-Cola decided to put pesticides in all their products. Quick, which drinks do you avoid?

It may not be such a nonsensical example. We saw a very similar thing last year, when cat and dog food started causing renal failure in pets. It turns out that the majority of the pet food brands you find in the grocery store-- even the cheap, knock-off brands-- are manufactured by a tiny handful of companies, most of which all sourced their wheat from the same Chinese company.

As a result, it took weeks to nail down every brand that could kill your pet, and more affected brands were cropping up every day. We ended up switching to a "whitelisted" brand during the fiasco, which did not set well with our dog's delicate constitution.

Even the retailers could not (or would not) keep up. We saw known-affected brands sitting on shelves at Wal-Mart and the local grocer throughout this fiasco.

I'm still not sure I understand. While most of those companies are owned by "The big three" they act as independent companies.

Even if this is something to be worried about, I'm not sure there is anything that could/should be done about it. People like these brands and the products they make and thats why the sell 80% of all soda.

Maybe we should be cognizant of the fact, and it is possible that is all you were saying, but anything beyond that I'm not sure is a good idea.

Just my ramblings.

There was an article a while ago about the Coca-Cola company putting pressure on one of these "independent" companies to change it's labeling. They wanted to say "zero high fructose corn syrup" or some such which Coca-Cola management thought was a bad idea. If they had been truly independent then the conversation over packaging would have not come up.

Anyway, the value of independent organizations is bad ideas are less likely to propagate between them.


Honest Tea is the name of the smaller company.

You're still going to have this SAME problem....with Wholesalers.

What you want is a diversity of wholesale suppliers, not a diversity of end product creators, if you're looking for ingredient purity.

Just replace soda with software - or better yet apps - and think of how a chart like the one in the link might effect factors you care about.

That may be a ridonculous comparison, but when you take into account the way the Coke's and Pepsi's of the world are able to dominate - by controlling distribution, by copying new ideas - you might start to see parallels in the software world.

I'm likely in the minority, but I'd actually rather pay my dollars to the Tweeties, Shopifys, or Smile on my Macs of the world than the Twitters, Facebooks, or Apples. It's just more fun.

In other words, it's a mature market with a few large players vying with each other, along with dozens of smaller players.

The result? A lot of different beverages, and plenty of alternatives for people afraid they'll get caught drinking the same thing the guy in front of them at the supermarket bought.

The history of Coke shows that they litigated with a vengeance everyone that tried to compete with them. Coke has never liked competition. A "napkin" agreement between Coke and Pepsi many decades ago, established this playing field.

I'd be much more interested in seeing something like this arranged by drinker-ship of each individual beverage; Coke, Pepsi, Diet Coke would all be massive bubbles, etc.

Still, interesting.

Would be interesting to see the same thing with beer. Inbev is getting pretty scary.

This is a nice visulization rather than your typical org-chart type diagram.

This would have been interesting if we could actually read the images

Try clicking the link to the zoomed in version:


Or the Zoom.It version: http://zoom.it/A8JK

I don't see Cheerwine on the list =(

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