NEW YORK — It wasn’t too long ago that America had a love affair with soda. Now, an old flame has the country’s heart.
Though New York City’s attempted ban on the sale of large cups of soda and other sugary drinks ran into a legal roadblock Monday, one thing is clear: Soda’s run as the nation’s beverage of choice has fizzled.
In its place? A favorite for much of history: plain old H2O.
For more than two decades, soda was the No. 1 drink in the U.S. with consumption peaking in 1998 at 54 gallons a year, according industry tracker Beverage Digest. Americans drank just 42 gallons a year of water at the time.
Over the years, as soda increasingly came under fire for fueling the nation’s rising obesity rates, water quietly rose to knock it off the top spot.
Americans now drink an average of 44 gallons of soda a year, a 17 percent drop from the peak in 1998. Over the same time, the average amount of water people drink has increased 38 percent to about 58 gallons a year. Bottled water has led that growth, with consumption nearly doubling to 21 gallons a year.
The trend reflects Americans’ ever-changing tastes; it wasn’t too far back in history that tap water was the top drink. But in the 1980s, carbonated soft drinks overtook tap as the most popular drink, with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo putting their marketing muscle behind their colas with celebrity endorsements.
Americans kept drinking more of the carbonated, sugary drink for about a decade. Then, soda’s magic started to fade: Everyone from doctors to health advocates to government officials were blaming soft drinks for making people fat. Consumption started declining after hitting a high in the late 1990s.
At the same time, people started turning to bottled water. Its popularity was helped by the emergence of single-serve bottles that were easy to carry.
Until then, bottled water had mainly been sold in “big jugs and coolers” for people who didn’t trust their water supply, said John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest.