It’s Monday morning and Kendal Powell waits in line behind 10 other cars at the drive-thru window at Swig. She needs her morning 44-ounce Diet Coke to help her wake up before heading off to work.
More than a dozen soda shops have opened in Utah County since 2013, including Swig, Sodalicious and Pop’n Sweets. These soda shops offer sodas and treats that are custom and inexpensive, but there are nutritional downsides.
On a weekday in July, Swig in Provo had 838 customers. Swig is one of the four soda shops that opened in Provo since 2013. These successful shops almost constantly have a line of thirsty customers. Most open at 7:30 a.m. and are open as late as midnight so people can get their soda fix at all hours of the day. Whether customers need a sweet drink in the morning to start the day, an afternoon pick me up or an evening caffeine boost for a night of studying, soda is available.
Bring on the soda
Culturally it is almost a fad to be drinking soda constantly within the LDS demographic. While the LDS population refrains from daily coffee or tea, many gravitate toward a daily soda.
“I drink at least one soda a day,” Powell said. “If I don’t stop to get my soda in the morning before work, I’m pretty much guaranteed to have a bad day.”
Most students know of a friend or have heard a story of the person who hides a Diet Coke in her purse in the back of a sacrament meeting. Or maybe they know someone who always has a soda on their bedside table. Dependence on caffeine consumption has become a humble bragging topic among college students in the LDS culture.
In addition to the daily ritual of soda usage, the success of soda shops in Utah County may be partially attributed to the inexpensive cost of a soda for a date. The trend of frozen yogurt as a cheap and easy date is a thing of the past. Not only are Swig and Sodalicious popular date locations, but the stores are also used as a place to meet up with friends or as a regular stop in many people’s daily routine.
“I like to take girls to get a soda after our date activity,” Kyle Robinson, a BYU student from Austin, Texas said. “It’s great for a date because she can customize the drink to get anything she likes, plus it’s cheaper than getting anything else.”
Custom soda shops allow customers the full experience of creating their own fun soda. Whether customers choose to make it “dirty” by adding coconut syrup, “extra dirty” with double coconut syrup and cream, or some other unique creation, the choice is their own. With countless options, it’s hard to get bored.
The custom soda shops are more expensive than the $1 any size soda at McDonald’s. But soda shops continue to open new locations and thrive. Swig employee Kamryn Spendlove said many people prefer Swig because of the Mormon culture in Utah.
“Swig is like a Mormon bar,” Spendlove said. Spendlove added that although McDonald’s and other places to buy regular soda are cheaper, Swig has a solid customer service reputation and offers a wider variety of drink options.
A custom-made soda is a sweet and inexpensive treat. Tight college budgets do not always include the funds for eating out at restaurants everyday. But a soda a day from a soda shop averages to only a couple of dollars a day, which some students feel they can afford.
“I make sure I have $2 a day in my budget to buy a soda or two,” Powell said.
Better stick with water
The soda trend seems to be popular with many college students, but it does offer some negative consequences.
The first concern is the caffeine consumption. Although members of the LDS faith refrain from addictive substances such as coffee, tea and alcohol, many drink a lot of caffeine from soda. Susan Fullmer, BYU professor of nutrition, dietetics and food science, said that caffeine is an addictive substance.
“It’s just like being addicted to any other stimulant,” Fullmer said. “They get the jitters if they don’t get their caffeine for the day.”
Fullmer said that one soda a day is probably not cause for a caffeine addiction and someone would need to drink more than one soda a day to become addicted to caffeine. But Fullmer added that some soda contains more caffeine than others, specifically Mountain Dew.
Lora Beth Brown, BYU professor of nutrition, dietetics and food science, agreed that caffeine consumption is dangerous in high amounts.
“There is an element of dependence on caffeine,” Brown said. “People come to want and need it.”
The dependence some have on caffeine is not the only issue with drinking too much soda. Fullmer said that she is more concerned with the calories consumed.
Brown added to the caloric concern and said soda consumption is unnecessary because it is an empty source of calories. An empty calorie means that the soda is providing a source of energy but not providing any nutrients.
“Part of the obesity problem is that people are getting more calories than they are using up so that’s one problem,” Brown said. “If they are non-caloric sodas, they may be displacing other nutritious drinks.”
As Brown said, soda is an unnecessary element in a diet. On nutrition labels, one serving of soda is listed as eight ounces. Eight ounces is only half the size of the smallest 16-ounce soda sold at soda shops. According to Swig employee Spendlove, most customers order at least a 24-ounce drink and the 16-ounce cups are hardly used.
An eight-ounce cup of Dr. Pepper is 100 calories. This means that a 24-ounce Dr. Pepper drink is already 300 calories without any additional flavorings. With all the extra sweetners, cream and massive sizes available at soda shops, the amount of calories from a soda can add up to as many as a full meal.
Fullmer advised that if a student wants to drink a custom soda, they should get the smallest size. She said that 16 ounces of soda is plenty. Both Fullmer and Brown said that a soda a day will probably not cause serious harm in the body, but would advise against drinking a lot of soda.
As for Powell, “I’ve heard so many times that soda is bad for me, but I love it too much to stop drinking it.”