Welcome to the Spring Beverages feature. 2018 will go down in UK marketing history as a momentous year for soft drinks. Consumers will have to pay more for their favourite treats from April, when the soft drinks levy, aka the sugar tax comes into force. The duty on producers and importers of sweet drinks is intended to cut obesity, especially in children. Drinks with total sugar content above 5g per 100 millilitres will be taxed at 18p per litre and drinks above 8g per 100 millilitres at 24p per litre.

But before that energy drinks, a much criticised product category in recent years, are seeing a clampdown on kids’ purchases from the retailers themselves. Campaigners have previously called for a ban on energy drink sales to children following findings that their sugar and caffeine content remains high despite reformulation ahead of the soft drinks levy.

The industry has shown responsibility on this already. Back in 2010 the British Soft Drinks Association introduced a voluntary code of practice stating that high-caffeine soft drinks should not be marketed to under- 16s. But eight years later, the retailers have decided they can’t wait any longer for decisive action. In January Waitrose led the way, saying customers buying drinks containing over 150mg of caffeine per litre would be asked to prove they were over 16. Asda, Aldi, Tesco and Morrisons have joined them in banning the sale of high-caffeine energy drinks to children under 16. And the move has prompted Jamie Oliver to call for a complete ban on the sale of energy drinks to children.

Asda‘s age restriction applies to 84 products from 5 March. From this date customers wishing to buy these in store or online need to be willing to show ID. Aldi, and Morrisons have also said that as of 5 March, any customers intending to buy a soft drink with more than 150 mg of caffeine per litre must prove their age first. In 2013, Morrisons announced a ban on children under the age of 16 from buying high-caffeine energy drinks, but only in some stores. Pressure group Action on Sugar has criticised as excessive the serving sizes of energy drinks, which are often sold in 500ml containers, bigger than other sugary drinks. It will be interesting to see how the suppliers respond to these developments.

Meanwhile in another part of the soft drinks arena, as reported in these pages Radnor Hills are celebrating 2018 with a re-launch of their popular Heartsease Farm Premium Pressé range. The new reduced-sugar recipes launched in February to meet the needs of health conscious adult consumers looking for premium soft drinks with low sugar content. Radnor Hills use all natural ingredients and their own lightly sparkling spring water from their farm in Powys, Mid Wales. The new recipes will be sweetened with Stevia – an allnatural plant based sweetener containing almost no calories. Radnor Hills launched in 1990 and bottle a diverse range of mineral water, flavoured spring water, juices and school compliant soft drinks, with brands including Radnor Hills, Radnor Splash, Radnor Fruits, Radnor Fizz, Fruella and Heartsease Farm.

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