Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent to Step Down Next Year

Operating Chief James Quincey will become chief executive in May; Mr. Kent will remain chairman

One of Mr. Quincey’s biggest challenges will be the increasing number of governments weighing special taxes on sugary drinks amid rising obesity and diabetes.

.. “We’d like to go faster’’ in diversifying beyond core soda offerings that include Fanta, Sprite and the namesake cola, Mr. Quincey said Friday. Coke is expanding its selection of low-calorie and zero-calorie beverages, he said, and played down the prospect that it would expand beyond beverages, as rival PepsiCo Inc. has done.

.. But many investors have soured on the company. Coke’s share price has gained 24% over the past five years, less than a third of the gain in the S&P 500.

.. Coke has 20 brands with at least $1 billion each in retail sales, including Simply fruit juices, Powerade sports drinks, Dasani bottled water and Gold Peak tea.

.. Honest Tea, an organic brand Coke acquired under Mr. Kent.

.. The low-key executive is popular in Coke’s management ranks, with a reputation of being a good listener and a calm problem solver. He often wears jeans to work, unlike the more formal Mr. Kent.

Making a Soda Tax More Politically Palatable

Instead of the usual eat-your-vegetables pitch of public health reformers, he is offering Philadelphians something more delicious: a giant pot of money to fund popular city projects. He says his soda tax could raise more than $400 million over five years, enough to fund not just universal preschool, but also renovations of local libraries, parks and recreation centers; “community schools” that wrap up social services with education; and cash for the troubled municipal pension program. He isn’t using the word obesity, or suggesting that people should drink less soda.

.. His tax would raise the price of a 20-ounce bottle of soda by 60 cents, an increase likely to make some shoppers think twice about a purchase

.. In Philadelphia, industry officials are also making more local anti-tax arguments, saying that a tax devised to lower consumption of the taxed good will not be a stable source of revenue for an initiative, like universal prekindergarten, that requires permanent funding.