In a move precipitated by a Change.org petition started by a Mississippi teenager, Coca-Cola is beginning to phase out a controversial ingredient from Powerade, its popular line of sports drinks. A representative for the Atlanta-based company confirmed Sunday that Powerade will no longer include brominated vegetable oil (BVO), which the Food and Drug Administration describes as a stabilizer for flavoring oils in fruit-flavored drinks.
Sarah Kavanagh, the teen who started the petition, described BVO a bit differently in 2012, when she started a similar crusade against Powerade's largest competitor, PepsiCo's Gatorade. Kavanagh's ardent vegetarianism led her to research the ingredients in Gatorade when she came across BVO, which has been banned in Japan and the European Union. BVO has been patented as a flame retardant and, according to Scientific American, could be linked "to impaired neurological development, reduced fertility, early onset of puberty and altered thyroid hormones."
Kavanagh said she targeted Gatorade and Powerade specifically because they market their products towards athletes. Her petitions against the two drinks generated close to 300,000 signatures in total.
With social media tools like Change.org, the balance of power has been shifting away from companies and towards consumers, giving tremendous power to people—in this case, a teenager. For communications professionals, the scrutiny Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have faced over BVO should serve as a wake up call, illustrating how regular people can gain visibility quickly and have a massive impact on the perception of a business.
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