Calls for a 4% reduction in added sugar in selected soft drinks are neither arbitrary nor especially onerous, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has insisted in the wake of industry criticism.
Contrary to comments made by industry sources - which claim they have "no idea where the 4% came from" and that calls for more 250ml cans instead of the standard 330ml were "costly and unworkable" - the FSA said its proposals were developed in "close collaboration" with industry:
"We've had lots of meetings with soft drinks firms and the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA), which told us that 5% was typically the threshold for consumer acceptance when it came to sugar reduction, so 4% [for drinks containing more than 8g of sugar per 100ml] is perfectly feasible."
While firms such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi already produced a wide range of diet drinks, this was "not an argument for failing to reformulate full sugar mainstream products", it added.
However, the British Retail Consortium said: "No one in industry seems to know where the 4% comes from or what the FSA is trying to achieve. Sugar intakes are not going up and diet and low sugar drinks are already widely available.
Changing the formulation of an iconic brand is not something any firm would undertake lightly."
As for the technical challenges associated with reformulation, one beverage applications specialist said a 4% reduction was "not actually that much"
He added: "If you have 8g of added sugar, 4% is only 0.32g. With some drinks, you'd barely notice; although with an iconic brand like Coca-Cola customers do notice the tiniest differences.
"But you are in a technical bind. Under the EU Sweeteners Directive, you are not allowed to use intense sweeteners such as aspartame or sucralose unless you are using them in a drink with no added sugar or a reduced energy drink with 30% less energy.
"So unless you are reducing added sugar by quite a bit - say from 9g to 6g - you can't just 'top up' with sweeteners. You'd need to experiment with flavours or change the balance of sugars instead."
The BSDA said: "An emphasis on a balanced diet and lifestyle would be more beneficial than setting arbitrary targets."