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Fast-Food Chains, Convenience Stores Fighting 'Soda War' To Gain More Business

LOS ANGELES, August 6, 2014 () – Recently, I was running some errands when I saw it: A sign at Carl’s Jr. advertising any size soft drink for $1.

And even though I wasn’t far from home and had cold soda waiting for me in my fridge, I went through the Carl’s Jr. drive thru and purchased a large Diet Dr. Pepper (and a spicy chicken sandwich to boot!).

I am the latest “victim” of what I call the fast food soda wars. It started months ago, when McDonald’s began offering any size of its soft drinks for $1. Now unlike other major fast-food restaurants, McDonald’s largest fountain drink only tops out at 32 ounces (compared to the 44 ounces at other quick-service chains) but still, it was an enticing promotional offer. The Carl’s Jr. upped the ante by offering its own $1 soft drink promotion, which included its largest 44-ounce offering.

There’s a few things I find interesting about this promotional soda trend:

First, it does work. It’s an offer that jumps out at regular fast-food customers because the cost of large beverage at any of these places can run as high as $2.40 or $2.50, so it’s hard to resist.

Second, there’s a catch that most customers don’t think of: The promotional price is only if you purchase the drink separately. It doesn’t apply if you’re ordering a combo meal. Speaking from personal experience: When I see the promotional poster but end up buying a combo meal instead, I don’t think about whether the promotional price of the soda was included. I guess I just assumed it was. The point being: The fact that combo meals are exempt is not a deterrent for me.

Third, fast-food chains aren’t the only ones using cheaper fountain drink prices to entice customers. 7-Eleven recently began offering its 32-ounce Big Gulp for 99 cents, and AMPM has long been offering cards to its customers where once they purchase four beverages, they get the fifth one free. And believe me: Regular fast-food customers also visit establishments like these. To them, they’re the same or similar.

Don’t be surprised to see others join in this soda war. Its potential of enticing customers has not yet been fully tapped.

Nevin Barich is the Food and Beverage Analyst for Industry Intelligence. Email him here or follow him on Twitter here.

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