Jeff Brown, the owner of seven ShopRite and Fresh Grocer supermarkets, wants you to believe a caravan of angry soda drinkers assembles regularly in Philadelphia, heads to Delco, aka the land of tax free soda, and buys up as much as they can carry home with them.
Sadly, Brown has chosen to put profits over people’s health, and use fear tactics to further a false narrative. There is no caravan here and Brown, who in 2015 purchased a $4.3 million mansion and owns profitable supermarkets across the region, probably isn’t personally going broke either. That expensive house isn’t on the market right now.
That same year, Philly was given the displeasure of being labeled the second most obese city out of the 10 U.S. counties containing major cities. Areas like North Philadelphia once had youth obesity rates as high as 70 percent.
A 2018 study conducted by Drexel faculty and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that upon implementing the beverage tax on January 1, 2017, 40 percent of Philadelphians were less likely to consume sugary beverages and were 58 percent more likely to choose bottled water. This is bad news for the soda industry and good news for the overall health of the city.
Brown wants you to believe he’s closing of one of his least profitable stores because of the beverage tax. This is nothing more than a talking point to push the anti-beverage tax narrative. Don’t fall for it. There are plenty of other potential reasons why this store couldn’t stay afloat.
This location doesn’t have a liquor license so it can’t compete with other supermarkets that sell beer and wine. Home delivery is increasingly the choice for busy urbanists who don’t have time to shop in a brick and mortar store and unlike many other area ShopRites, the Haverford store does not offer home delivery. Market saturation is a contributing factor since there is a bigger, newer, transit accessible ShopRite in Parkside and several other supermarkets within a two-mile radius.
If this tax is putting undue burden on all the “border” supermarkets that are supposedly losing money to nearby suburban grocery stores like Brown claims, than why isn’t the Aldi at 76th and Overbrook shutting its doors? It’s 1.2 miles closer to Montgomery County.
I used to buy groceries at the ShopRite at 67th and Haverford over a decade ago when I was a college student living in Mantua. Even back then it was far from the only grocery store serving West Philadelphia. I remember it being smaller and not as welcoming as other ShopRite stores around the city. I often chose to shop at smaller grocers like the seafood market at 66th and Haverford that is still open today.
New taxes will always be opposed by the corporations that stand to lose profits and by people who mindlessly oppose any progressive means of changing the way we live. All the great ideas in the world are not effective in reducing unhealthy choices unless they are enforced. Taxation is the only way to push people on the fence to the healthy side. Just look at the tobacco industry.
Years of taxes and campaigns showing the negative health risks caused by this dangerous, yet legal, product has changed the public’s perception of smoking. Today, smoking rates among young people are declining more than ever and smoking is becoming culturally taboo.
It is a fact that soda and sugary beverages cause diabetes. A recent study also linked sugary beverages to chronic kidney disease. We need to start treating soda and other sugary drinks as unnecessary health risks that should be avoided. It is our choice as Americans whether we want to live a healthy lifestyle or consume high fructose corn syrup. If you choose the latter, it will cost you more than 1.5 cents per ounce. Pick your poison.
Ptah Gabrie is a freelance journalist and prefers a glass of ice water over soda.