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Council wants to ban pop from vending machines on city property Add to ...

If you’re thirsty after a game at a Toronto-owned arena or community centre, you could soon be limited to three choices in vending machines: low-fat milk, fortified soy beverages or 100- per-cent fruit and vegetable juice.

The city is aiming to banish sugary drinks from vending machines at all its facilities by 2014, a public-health play that would make Toronto’s anti-pop regime the toughest in Ontario.

“As a public policy maker, I apply the same rules as I apply in my house,” Councillor Joe Mihevc said. “We don’t allow pop. Period.”

The change could come at a price. Under its current deal with Pepsi Bottling Group, the city is expected to receive $330,000 this year, about $70,000 of which would be a commission on sales.

If the past is any guide, those sales would plummet. Milk and 100-per-cent juice accounted for just 3 per cent of the city’s vending machine sales by volume between 2006 and 2009. The machines don’t sell soy drinks yet. Another option, bottled water, accounts for 12 per cent of vending sales, but it too will be banned starting next year.

When council adopted Toronto’s last five-year agreement with Pepsi in 2005, members voted to set strict guidelines for the next round of negotiations, including restricting the selection to healthy beverages in cans or bottles of 250 ml or less.

Now, with the Pepsi deal set to expire Oct. 31, city staff are sending request-for-proposal criteria for the next cold-drink contract to a government management committee for vetting next week.

Councillor Doug Holyday, a member of the committee, hopes the proposal fizzles out.

“I agree with trying to improve the health of our residents, but there’s a question of choice … we can’t save everyone from themselves,” he said.

Toronto is already trying to nudge thirsty citizens away from sugary drinks, with little success. Vending machines at the city’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation facilities are stocked with 50 per cent healthy drinks today. But sweet libations are wildly more popular: Pop and sports drinks accounted for 71 per cent of beverages sold between 2006 and 2009, while iced tea and synthetic fruit juice accounted for 6 per cent each.

If council adopts the proposed bid criteria, those drinks would all be banned eventually.

The winner of the next cold-drink licensing agreement would have to increase the share of healthy beverages in its machines from 50 per cent in the first two years of the contract to 75 per cent in the following two years to 100 per cent by the final year, beginning in November, 2014.

The successful bidder would also have to agree to carry cans and bottles no larger than 355 ml. Despite council’s direction that 250 ml be the maximum, the staff report says virtually nobody sells drinks in such a small container. Most vending machines sell 591 ml bottles.

These restrictive rules would put Toronto well ahead of Ottawa and Markham, which require that half of all cold drinks sold in city-owned machines be healthy, and Mississauga, which demands 25 per cent. Most Ontario cities set no minimum at all.

Mr. Mihevc predicts the new rules won’t turn off the soft-drink companies.

“I’m absolutely sure we’ll have bidders,” he said.

Even Mike Del Grande, a member of the government management committee who usually objects to the city passing on a buck, conceded the health benefits outweighed a minor financial loss.

“Philosophically – and you’re talking to an accountant now – the city is not just about dollars and cents,” he said. “There’s a cost to living a healthy lifestyle.”

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