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Originally published Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Soda growing as breakfast drink

It's not unusual for Dee McKinsey to have three cans of Coke before she leaves the house each morning for her job as the regional director...

Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — It's not unusual for Dee McKinsey to have three cans of Coke before she leaves the house each morning for her job as the regional director of boards and volunteerism at the American Cancer Society in Chicago.

"There is nothing better than the feel of Coke on the back of your throat in the morning," said McKinsey, a morning pop drinker since the 1970s, savoring the cold, stinging sensation that coffee drinkers just don't get.

But these days, more people are enjoying that chilled morning jolt as they increasingly turn to soft drinks instead of coffee.

Consumption of soft drinks at breakfast eaten outside the home has nearly doubled in the past 15 years, while coffee consumption with breakfast outside the home has fallen nearly 25 percent, according to data compiled by New-York based consumer-research firm NPD Group.

The statistics are specific to drinks with meals and do not, for example, address the Starbucks phenomenon.

Breakfast consumers order a soft drink with their breakfast 15.1 percent of the time, compared with 7.9 percent of the time in 1990, said Harry Balzer, an NPD executive vice president who has studied U.S. eating habits for more than 25 years. At the same time, Balzer said, coffee was being ordered 38 percent of the time, compared with 48.7 percent 15 years ago.

It probably is not surprising that soft drinks are a growing choice at breakfast considering that nearly half of the U.S. population older than 4 consumes soft drinks on any given day, according to a one study.

Consumers are drinking soda for breakfast at home more frequently, too, though not in the same numbers.

Balzer said 2.4 percent of the people who ate breakfast at home in 2006 consumed a soft drink with breakfast, compared with 0.5 percent in 1985.

Most morning consumers prefer fully sugared regular pop, but diet-soda consumption continues to grow in the mornings. In 2006, 5.3 percent of those eating breakfast away from home had a diet pop, while 9.8 percent had a regular soft drink. Diet pop accompanied 1.7 percent of breakfasts in 1990, according to NPD.

A typical soft drink contains about 35 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce serving, while a similar size cup of coffee has an average of 75 milligrams.

Stephen Shapiro, a motivational speaker and owner of the consulting company 24/7 Innovation, said his morning soda ritual is not just about the caffeine.

"I find that first Diet Coke in the morning is so refreshing," he said in an e-mail, noting he has never worked for a soft-drink company. "I sometimes drink caffeine-free and still get the same feeling."

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