Sugar has been the biggest story of 2015 for the food and drink industry, and perhaps even more so for the soft drinks category. The publication of the SACN report and its revised intake recommendations; Public Health England’s sugar reduction evidence review; and Jamie Oliver implementing his own soft drinks tax have all led to sugar being the flavour of the year for the media but it’s worth remembering that our sector has been taking action in this area for some time.

chazIn fact, efforts by soft drinks companies including product reformulation, smaller pack sizes and increased promotion of low and no calorie drinks have led to 7.5% reduction in calories from soft drinks since 2012. The majority of soft drinks now sold in the UK are low and no calorie including half of all carbonates.

Contrary to claims being made by health campaigners the soda tax in Mexico is not working. The preliminary, undisclosed consumption data cited by Oliver and co is not supported by the evidence. According to industry figures the sector saw a 2.5% fall in sales volumes, reducing calorie intake from sugar-sweetened beverages by just 6.2 calories per person, per day. These stats are also supported by data from independent retail analysts, Kantar Worldpanel, which reports there has been a sales decline of just over 2%.

Even the modelling study promoted by Action on Sugar and other health campaigners in the UK suggests a 20% tax on soft drinks would reduce calories by a mere 4 calories per person, per day. Predictably, even when campaigners choose their preferred tax rate the impact on calorie intake is still minimal.

Food taxes have been shown not to work and this is surely one reason why the UK Government has ruled out such a tax. However, the threat continues and it’s worrying that guesswork on the part of campaigners including Prof. James, who cited a 100% tax as a reasonable figure, could have real consequences for manufacturers and retailers alike.

Over the summer BSDA commissioned Oxford Economics to produce a report on the economic impact of the soft drinks industry in the UK. The findings are astounding. For example, while 15,000 people in the UK are directly employed by soft drinks producers almost 350,000 jobs are supported by our industry including 91,000 in the retail sector.

From the corner shop to the supermarket 3.1% of the total turnover of the entire retail sector comes from soft drinks; these sales add £2.2bn to the British economy along with a further £9bn from the industry as a whole.

The soft drinks industry recognises it has a role to play in supporting public health objectives and the efforts by soft drinks companies so far are already having a positive impact.

We should all be working together to deliver real behaviour change through education, industry efforts, and most importantly, a holistic approach that addresses overall diet and lifestyle. Let’s hope the Government’s forthcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy will reflect this Gavin Partington, BSDA Director General wrote this article for The Grocery Trader.

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