The Wall Street Journal has been publishing a fascinating series called “Beyond Soda,” about consumer preferences’ shift away from soft drinks and the business moves it’s triggered: Grocers searching for the best shelf for alcoholic kombucha; Starbucks heading to the lab to remake the Frappuccino; Coca-Cola launching drinks flavored by whey, sesame, and walnut; PepsiCo purchasing SodaStream International.
Millions of times a year, people use Yelp to tell the world about their experiences eating, drinking and shopping for food and drink. Beverages are important components of many of those users’ stories. (“Love the people and love the coffee”; “First thing I noticed upon walking in is their small but very impressive for the area beer selection.”)
“Beyond Soda” had us wondering: Have Yelp reviewers also moved beyond soda?
The answer: they have. Soda mentions are down on Yelp. The much bigger trends? Wine’s down more and coffee’s up. These are reflections of changing drinking habits, sure. But they also reflect changes in how we talk — and write — about food and drink. As coffee has transformed from a daily pick-me-up to a beverage with multiplying options and varietals, it has given its drinkers more reason to mention it in reviews.
The decline in soda didn’t happen overnight. Fizzy drinks have declined steadily for the last decade, down about 15% in the first eight months of 2018 from Jan.-Aug. 2008. During that time, wine is down 45%. Coffee is up 20%. Cocktails are up 50%. And boba has increased by more than 200%.
Methodology: Our measure of a drink’s ubiquity in Yelp reviews is the ratio of (A) the number of mentions of the drink in reviews in the food, restaurants, and nightlife categories to (B) the total number of mentions of any popular drink, including soda, in reviews. Words for soda are, besides “soda,” “coke” and “pop.” Each of the three soda words was down on its own. We similarly grouped coffee words such as “latte” under coffee and wine words such as “malbec” under wine. By any popular drink, we mean drinks that were among the ones most often mentioned in reviews in the food, restaurants, and nightlife categories. (There’s some subjectivity here; we didn’t include “shake” because it can mean something other than a drink.)
Graphic by The DataFace.