NEW YORK — As criticism of sugary sodas intensifies, Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper are rolling out new vending machines that will put calorie counts right at your fingertips.
The move comes ahead of a regulation that would require restaurant chains and vending machines to post the information as early as next year, although the specifics for complying with the requirement are still being worked out.
"They're seeing the writing on the wall and want to say that it's corporate responsibility," said Mike Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which advocates for food safety and nutrition.
Still, he noted that it was an important step forward. "Currently, people don't think about calories when they go up to a vending machine," he said. "Having the calories right on the button will help them make choices."
The American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc., said the calorie counts will be on the buttons people press to select a drink. Vending machines will also feature small decals, such as "Calories Count: Check Then Choose."
The vending machines will launch in Chicago and San Antonio municipal buildings in 2013 before appearing nationally. Without providing specifics, the American Beverage Association said the machines will also boost the availability of lower- and zero-calorie drinks.
"We have market research that says consumers really like this. They like choice; they like the ability to make choices," said Susan Neely, president of the industry group.
A mock-up of a new machine provided by Coca-Cola showed 20-ounce bottles of its flagship drink and Sprite inside vending machines, with labels on the buttons stating "240 calories."
The soda industry has been under fire for fueling rising obesity rates. Vending machines account for about 13 percent of sales volume, a figure that has remained relatively unchanged in recent years, according to Beverage Digest.
Last month, New York City approved a first-in-the-nation plan to prohibit the sale of sugary drinks over 16 ounces in the city's restaurants, movie theaters and stadiums. Notably, the beverage industry fought aggressively to fight the ban and hasn't ruled out taking legal action to stop it from taking effect this spring.