The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Coca-Cola Takes Heat For Funding ‘Energy Balance’ Group

By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (TNS)

ATLANTA — Coca-Cola found itself on the defensive Monday after a report said the beverage giant had been secretly funding a “scientific” group that says Americans are getting fatter because of a lack of physical fitness — not sugary drinks.

The group, Global Energy Balance Network, bills itself as a not-for-profit “dedicated to identifying and implementing innovative solutions — based on the science of energy balance — to prevent and reduce diseases associated with inactivity, poor nutrition and obesity.”

But a New York Times report said the group did not reveal that its operations are financially backed by Atlanta-based Coke.

Coke did not directly respond Monday but said it supports efforts to cut Americans’ calorie consumption.

Health officials and those who link consumption of sugary drinks to obesity and diabetes said the lack of transparency is part of a growing trend among some companies attempting to influence public opinion through scientific expertise.

Other examples include the American Council on Science and Health, the International Food Information Council and the Center for Consumer Freedom, author and blogger Vani Hari, also known as the Food Babe, wrote in a July blog on “hired” experts.

“They are trying to hijack the narrative, to cause confusion,” said Dr. Mark Hyman, a physician with the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Mass., and author of several books on diet and controlling blood sugar.

Coke has struggled to stop a domestic decline in consumption of its carbonated brands — such as Coke, Diet Coke and Sprite — which peaked in the late 1990s but have suffered as consumers switch to waters, teas and energy drinks because of obesity and health concerns.

The brands have seen an uptick in interest in smaller, 7.5-ounce and aluminum-bottle versions, which helped Coke report second-quarter profits of $3.11 billion, up from $2.6 billion a year earlier.

In a statement, Coca-Cola did not address the Times report that it funded the GEBN, but said it has joined with the American Beverage Association, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and others to help every person reduce calorie consumption by 20 percent by 2025.

“Coca-Cola supports finding solutions to obesity, including funding scientific research. We recognize that moderation and diet play a pivotal role in managing health and weight in combination with exercise. In fact, we continue to take steps to help people manage their calories — whether it’s through the introduction of smaller-sized packs, front-of-pack calorie labeling or innovation through new products such as Coca-Cola Life,” the company said.

In a video on the Global Energy Balance Network’s site, exercise scientist Steven Blair, of the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, said there is a need to find out what is actually causing the obesity epidemic and that more data is necessary.

“Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is ‘Oh, they are eating too much’ … blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on. And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

The Times story said Coke donated $1.5 million to start the GEBN last year and that its website, gebn.org, is registered to Coke headquarters in Atlanta.

Coke registered the website because network members did not know how, James Hill, a University of Colorado School of Medicine professor who is president of the group, told the Times.

“They’re not running the show,” he told the Times. “We’re running the show.”

The Times also said that since 2008, Coke provided close to $4 million for various projects for Blair and Gregory Hand, dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health. Both are founding members of the organization.

Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, compared the tactics used by such groups to those employed by the tobacco industry when it was under fire.

“Professors routinely sell bits of their souls to companies, but it really should be an embarrassment to them,” he said.

Joseph Agnese, an analyst for S&P Capital IQ, said he was neither shocked by the story nor does he think it will hurt Coke. He thinks the public has become accustomed to corporations using various tactics to spin information in their favor.

“People somewhat expect it,” he said.

Photo: Coke is trying to hijack the conversation away from its allegedly harmful products, say many health and obesity experts and a section of the public. Kristin Andrus/Flickr

Chick-Fil-A Founder Truett Cathy Dies At 93

By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA — S. Truett Cathy, who turned a humble hometown restaurant featuring a boneless fried chicken sandwich into the Chick-fil-A juggernaut, died Monday at 1:35 a.m. He was 93.

Cathy, who died at home surrounded by loved ones, was known as much for his Christian principles — Chick-fil-A’s are closed on Sundays — as he was for his business acumen. He lived long enough to see his company rise from a local grill to the No. 1 U.S. chicken chain this year.

In many ways, he lived the American dream. Starting life in poverty, Cathy opened a tiny diner on the outskirts of Atlanta and built it into into a corporation with more than 1,800-restaurants. He was inspired as a teen by Napolean Hill’s motivational tome “Think and Grow Rich,” whose mantra was — you can achieve whatever your mind can conceive.

“I had a low image of myself because I was brought up in the deep Depression,” Cathy said in a 2008 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I struggled to get through high school. I didn’t get to go to college. But it made me realize you can do anything if you want to bad enough.”

His success, personality, and principles made Cathy a rock star among fans who showed up in the hundreds at signings for the books he wrote or to hear him lecture on the fast-food industry.
Devotees would swoon when he spoke about his early years as a Hapeville restaurateur and the origins of his marquee chicken sandwich, while business leaders would pay rapt attention to his instructions on commitment to quality. His company was the envy of peers for its superior service — the phrase “my pleasure” is almost inextricably associated with the chain — and for its long-running, iconic advertising campaign featuring spell-challenged bovines.

There were some missteps along the way. Cathy tried to grow the brand internationally with stores in South Africa, only to retreat. The company’s Christian identity also rubbed some the wrong way, with accusations and lawsuits that claimed the chain discriminated against non-Christians, gays, and others with different viewpoints.

And some in the business community questioned the privately-held company’s wisdom in closing on Sunday, a potential loss of billions of dollars in annual revenue. The genial Cathy stuck to his guns, explaining that it was more important that Sunday be a day of rest for the company’s workers and customers.

Operating six-days a week, the company had sales of $5 billion in 2013 and toppled KFC a year earlier as the top U.S. chicken chain, though KFC is larger in worldwide sales.

Over the past few years, as his health deteriorated, Cathy had slowed down and trimmed his public appearances. Late last year, his son Dan Cathy, who had been the company’s president, was promoted to chief executive officer and chairman while his father was given the title chairman emeritus.

But to most, Chick-fil-A will always be connected to its colorful founder.

Cathy began tinkering with boneless chicken at his hamburger haven, the Dwarf Grill (now Dwarf House) in Hapeville, which opened in 1946 largely to serve nearby Ford plant workers. He spent four years devising the ingredients for his famous sandwich, which he began selling in 1961 before the ultimate formula was settled.

The motorcycle-riding, God-fearing Cathy resisted the temptation to take the company public. He was afraid a board of directors would unload him for not maximizing profits. And he wanted free rein on charitable ventures, which included sponsoring foster homes, summer camps, and academic programs.

Cathy also didn’t want to change his policy of closing on Sundays. That started when he drew the shades at the Dwarf Grill once a week to preserve time for courting the woman he would marry.

“If it took seven days to make a living with a restaurant,” he once said, “then we needed to be in some other line of work.”

It is a policy embraced by his children — Dan, Don “Bubba” Cathy, and Trudy Cathy — and is being passed to his grandchildren.

Former President Jimmy Carter, a Cathy friend, described the restaurateur’s faith: “In every facet of his life, Truett Cathy has exemplified the finest aspects of his Christian faith… . By his example, he has been a blessing to countless people,” Carter said in a statement. “We are fortunate to be among those whose lives he has touched.”

Named after preacher-evangelist George W. Truett, Samuel Truett Cathy was born on March 14, 1921, sixth in a family of seven children.

His dad was a struggling insurance salesman. The family made ends meet with Mom renting out beds at their modest home on Oak Street. Her work ethic was such that Cathy claimed the first time he saw her eyes closed was when she lay in a casket.

He got this start in the food business at 8, with her help. He erected a Coke stand in the front yard and chilled the bottles with frozen chunks of ice bought from an ice man who came by on a horse-drawn carriage. He would buy a six-pack of “Co’colas,” as he called them, for a quarter and sold them for 5 cents each, netting him a nickle for every six-pack. He was at the time a poor boy wearing shoes stuffed with cardboard, according to his book, “Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People.”

Winters, when demand for a frosty soft drink waned, he switched to magazine subscriptions.

He served in World War II and came home to build, with his brother, Ben, the Dwarf Grill between the Ford plant and Candler field, which became Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Cathy continued running the restaurant, named for its petite size, after Ben’s untimely death and began experimenting with the “chicken steak” sandwich that has become the chain’s beloved hallmark.

He was an early entrant into newfangled shopping centers called malls, and opened his first free-standing restaurant in 1986 on North Druid Hills Road. The rest is Chik-fil-A history.

He made no bones about structuring his operation around biblical principles. Monday mornings at corporate offices begin with optional devotionals.

“I see no conflict whatsoever between Christianity and good business practices,” he said in 2006. “People say you can’t mix business with religion. I say there’s no other way.”

“People appreciate you being consistent with your faith,” he told an AJC reporter. “It’s a silent witness to the Lord when people go into shopping malls, and everyone is bustling, and you see that Chick-fil-A is closed.”

In later years, Cathy shifted his energies to charity — mainly foster homes and home for abused and neglected children. And he launched the WinShape scholarship program at Berry College, mostly bestowed to young Chick-fil-A employees.

The family torch has been passed to a second generation of Cathys. In early 2006, grandson Andrew Cathy began operating a franchise in St. Petersburg, Florida.

At the grand opening, the family and business patriarch said, “It was the best day of my career.” He expressed the wish that his other grandkids would carry on his vision.

“I feel confident they will make it work for the next generation,” said Cathy, 84 at the time. “I’m not going to be around forever.”

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Jeannette McNeil Cathy; sons Dan T. and Don “Bubba” Cathy; daughter Trudy Cathy White; 19 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

Chick-fil-A said the public will be able to pay respects to Cathy at two public viewings and a public funeral service. The times and dates for those events have not be finalized.

In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be made to the WinShape Foundation, which was founded in 1984. Donations can be sent to: WinShape Foundation, 5200 Buffington Road, Atlanta, GA, 30349.

Former Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writers Mike Tierney, Gayle White, Maria Saporta, and Joe Guy Collier contributed to this story.

Photo via WikiCommons

Interested in national news? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!