Taylor Peck, Big Soda’s unlikeliest ally, fights the soda tax, but still hates Coke.
San Francisco magazine
October 22, 2014
Taylor Peck drinks three or four sodas a day. “I try all of our products,” the owner of two gourmet soda shops—one in the Mission and one in the Haight, both called the Fizzary—tells me as I sip a bottle of chai cola. Before we met, I had a bottle of his chai cola, one of the half dozen soft drinks that he sells under his Taylor’s Tonics label. The cola’s ingredients include black tea, cinnamon bark, yerba maté, and cardamom, but not high fructose corn syrup.
None of the drinks that Peck makes contain corn syrup, but not necessarily because he thinks it’s unhealthy—he just doesn’t like the taste. The bottle bears a a quote from the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire that reads, "Now and then, it's good to pause in our pursuit of hapiness and just be happy."; the label is done up in a Summer of Love font. The only way the soda could be more San Franciscan is if it had married a cola of the same gender at Burning Man. When asked if he’s a Coke or a Pepsi guy, Peck shoots back, “I’m a chai cola guy. They can suck it.”
So it’s odd to see Peck serving as the literal poster child for an effort by Big Soda—aka the American Beverage Association—to beat back Proposition E, the city’s sugary drink tax that would add an estimated 24 cents to the price of every 12-ounce can of soda. But Peck volunteered for the gig—if you haven’t seen the billboards, you’ve seen the endlessly rerun television commercials—and is notably happy to be part of an ad campaign that some say is tantamount to Big Soda coming in and shaming San Francisco for trying to tax it.
“It is Big Soda coming in,” Peck says. “What voter wouldn’t expect Coca-Cola to defend itself from a Coca-Cola tax? But they might not have
expected me.” Big Soda, for its part, couldn’t have found a more congenial front man: Peck is passionate about his business and possesses an infectious brio. On the billboards, he appears like a kind of San Francisco Everyman—neat beard, newsboy cap, button-down shirt—save for the look of concern creeping across his face.
Obviously, Peck is opposed to the tax because it would hurt his business: He estimates that his customers will be looking at an extra $4,150 to $7,750 a month in taxes. That price increase, while probably not enough to drive Peck out of business, would be a serious blow to his bottom line. But he also opposes the tax because he believes that it would unfairly force all consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages to pay for the health problems of a few. “Under the banner of preventing childhood obesity, we would be eternally plaguing all beverage consumers with a substantial tax,” he says.
But couldn’t everyone—not just obese children—stand to drink a little less sugar water? After all, Peck’s chai cola has 32 grams of sugar, and the American Heart Association recommends that men limit their intake of added sugar to no more than 37.5 grams per day. “I think we need to step back a little from the ledge about sugar,” says Peck. He acknowledges the health risks associated with excessive consumption of sugar, but believes that consumers should be allowed to make up their own minds. It’s the age-old libertarianism versus public health debate. “If you want to drink a Dr Pepper and then go work out,” says Peck, “more power to you.”
Being the public face of an unpopular cause hasn’t been easy for Peck. Things bottomed out on a recent Saturday, when a singlet-and-kimono-attired patron from the nearby bar El Rio came into the Fizzary and cussed Peck out. Still, Peck is unashamed of his position. He talks about his sodas with the same zeal that you hear when artisanal bakers talk about bread or the Blue Bottle guys talk about coffee. Ultimately, he says, “I like carbonation a lot.”