As soon as I heard about the Bill Clinton-brokered agreement to keep sugar soft drinks out of schools, I knew we'd be hearing complaints from the free market crowd—even though the deal was worked out in the marketplace by market actors. Well, we didn't have to wait long. Witness this tantrum in response to a professor who thinks that the industry might have gone farther:
C'mon Barry, why stop there? Let's ban all soft drink advertising and stop selling soda to those under 18 years old. Then, let's impose a hefty tax on soda, say 50 cents a can and a $1 on bottles. I am sure you would also like to see police crackdowns on underage soda consumption and DUIS, driving under the influence of soda.
It's worth noting that the professor in question wasn't advocating regulation, at least not as quoted. What conclusion should I draw from this except that the "free" in "free market" does not simply mean freedom from unnecessary regulation? It should be crystal clear that these folks want business to operate free from any constraint on profit, even restraint urged by the oft-rumored but never photographed corporate conscience.
The soft drink manufacturers did what they thought was right. Whether their decision was based on a sense of social responsibility or a calculation of PR value doesn't matter. Some people won't be happy until every last dollar that can be squeezed from people's (in this case, students') pockets has been.