Fact Check: Boycott Did NOT Cause Pepsi To Outsell Coke And Was Not Cause Of 100 Cancelled Delta Flights

Fact Check

  • by: Marlo Lee
Fact Check: Boycott Did NOT Cause Pepsi To Outsell Coke And Was Not Cause Of 100 Cancelled Delta Flights Not Measured

Did Pepsi sell more products than Coca-Cola during the April, 2021 boycott declared by conservatives to punish the company for criticizing Georgia's new voting restrictions? Did Delta cancel 100 flights because of the boycotts? No, that's not true: according to Coca-Cola and PepsiCo's first quarter earnings reports, Coca-Cola earned almost $600 million more than PepsiCo in the first quarter. Delta Air Lines did have to cancel 100 flights, but because of "various factors, including staffing, large numbers of employee vaccinations and pilots returning to active status" a Delta spokesperson said.

The claim first appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) where it was published on April 12, 2021 under the title. It opened:

Pepsi outselling Coke, Delta cancelling 100 flights. The people CAN be in control WAKE UP AMERICA

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Tue May 4 17:53:58 2021 UTC)

Lead Stories emailed Duane Stanford, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, on May 5, 2021 to ask if the boycott in April 2021 had affected Coca-Cola or PepsiCo's beverage sales. Stanford responded by email on May 5, 2021, "There has been no discernable impact to Coke in the data we have seen. In fact, for the four-weeks ending April 24, Nielsen data shows that Coca-Cola's carbonated soft drink sales at measured retail outlets indeed declined, but at a lesser rate than did PepsiCo. In other words, PepsiCo's carbonated soft drink brands fell more on a volume basis than did Coke's."

The email continued, "The declines have everything to do with retail channel shifting due to the pandemic. Sales at retail skyrocketed last year as consumers loaded their pantries during lockdowns. Now that we are a year past the start of those lockdowns, you see some of that increased volume flowing back to restaurants and other unmeasured channels. That creates a year-over-year decline even as sales volume remains elevated compared to 2019 levels."

He concluded, "Such boycotts rarely have a material or sustained impact, especially in the short term. At most there could be a reputation hit in the short or even long term. There could also be regional variances in sales for a short period of time during a boycott. I wouldn't expect much more."

On May 4, 2021, Lead Stories reached out to Coca-Cola by email for a comment on the original claim. Ann L. Moore, a spokesperson for Coca-Cola responded to the email the same day, "We do not share sales information beyond what we report each quarter during our earnings announcements."

The Coke boycotts didn't arise until April, 2021, so the quarterly public reports available at the time this was written would not have documented boycott effects.

According to Coca-Cola's Q1 earnings report on their website, the income earned before income taxes was $2,763,000,000 by April 2, 2021. On the other hand, PepsiCo's Q1 earnings reports listed income before income taxes as $2,174,000,000 by March 20, 2021. PepsiCo reports beverages are just 45% of overall revenues. During a first quarter earnings call with stock analysts, PepsiCo's CEO reported sales of Pepsi have turned around from prior years. In a transcript of Coca-Cola's first quarter earnings call, Coke's CEO made no mention of boycott effects and said the re-opening of the U.S. economy is boosting sales.

For the Delta portion of the claim, Lead Stories reached out to Delta Air Lines by email on May 4, 2021. Morgan Durrant, a spokesperson for Delta responded to Lead Stories' inquiry by email on the same day: "As far as the flight cancelations in early April, here's our statement from that time. Vaccinations were driving pilot unavailability for a brief time as the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] requires a mandatory 48 hour no-fly period for pilots after each does (sic) of the vaccine. Delta teams have been working through various factors, including staffing, large numbers of employee vaccinations and pilots returning to active status. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and the majority have been rebooked for the same travel day."

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Marlo Lee is a fact checker at Lead Stories. She is a graduate of Howard University with a B.S. in Biology. Her interest in fact checking started in college, when she realized how important it became in American politics. She lives in Maryland.

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