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Why Reebok employees can’t have soda, candy bars or Red Bull anymore

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

“We see fitness as a way for people to become better humans.” So says Yan Martin, VP of brand management for Reebok. And now the company is ensuring that its employees become better humans -- whether they like it or not.

Last week, the company pulled all soda, sugary beverages, energy drinks, and candy bars from its corporate headquarters in Canton, Mass., where 1,100 people work. It also won’t offer any fried food or white bread or pasta (whole wheat only) in its cafeterias. It’s calling the movement “See Ya Soda” and created an advertisement around it, in which a buff man pushes a soda vending machine all the way out of an office.

Adidas Group (ADDYY), which bought Reebok in 2006 for $3.8 billion, has repositioned the Massachusetts apparel company as a “fitness generation” (fitgen) brand. Where the Adidas brand is typically associated with team sports, like soccer, Reebok’s “Be More Human” brand campaign, which launched last year, centers around solo activities: running, training, lifting weights, and CrossFit. One of the early ads in the campaign showed a woman running alone over sparse underbrush on what looked like a mountaintop.

In a Fortune interview last year, longtime Adidas CEO Herbert Hainer acknowledged, “it has taken too long to reposition Reebok to where we want to have it, the fitness and training brand. But I am absolutely convinced that the Reebok brand will help us mean more to more consumers. Every demographic analysis says fitness is the biggest thing.”

The pivot has appeared to work: Global sales for Reebok brand grew a modest 5.4% in the fourth quarter from the year before. “Reebok is clearly doing better,” says Morningstar analyst Paul Swinand says, “but it’s not fully turned around, either. They still have to close more stores, close outlets.” Still, sponsorship deals with CrossFit and the UFC have helped, and Swinand says American consumers are beginning to associate Reebok with fitness and training. That’s what the company wants. And apparently an important step in getting to that point is having its employees symbolize the brand as well.

“Our purpose is brought to life on our campus,” says Martin. “Be More Human is more than just working out, it’s what you put in your body, it’s how you treat your body.” Employees can no longer find any soda, Red Bull, or candy for sale anywhere on campus, but could still bring it from home, if they wished—though it practically sounds taboo there now. “Everyone is entitled to their own choices, we’re not going to tell people what they can or can’t do,” says Martin, “but what we can do is bring to life our fit lifestyle. We want to really put forward that approach. There is really nothing good that can come out of drinking soda.” (According to the Harvard School of Public Health, people who drink 1-2 cans of soda a day have a 25% higher risk of developing diabetes, to name just one detrimental effect.)

Reebok’s relationship with CrossFit is close and cozy. CrossFit creator Greg Glassman made headlines last year when he suggested he would like Adidas to sell Reebok to someone “young, fresh, excited.” And CrossFit, as a movement, has in recent years aggressively gone after the soda industry with social media posts sharing sugar facts and warning people off.

Martin says Reebok is “independent”from CrossFit in its views: “We’re not attacking soda companies, we’re just saying we don’t think it’s the right thing to do for our employees. We are definitely taking a stance that we don’t think it’s the right thing to put in your body, but it’s not a coordinated effort with CrossFit against soda.” Nonetheless, CrossFit has repeatedly tweeted praise for the initiative over the past week, and retweeted praise from others. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nutrition advocacy group, also tweeted its support.

In addition to aligning its workers’ behavior with the brand’s messaging, there are no doubt business benefits to having a healthier workforce. For one, Reebok has generated itself some buzzy P.R. from its ‘See Ya Soda’ effort. And institutional wellness programs, which have proliferated at big companies, hypothetically should save employers on health care costs, though at least one study, from the RAND Corporation research group in 2013, found they do not.

After all the P.R. around the initiative has come and gone, Reebok employees will be left soda-less, but soon they may not be alone. “Eventually we'd like to see it rolled out at all our facilities and offices around the world,” Martin says. He means you, Adidas employees—from Portland, Ore., to Herzogenaurach, Germany. Better drink up while you can.


Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. 

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