Soft drinks producers posted a 6.7% total sugar reduction last year, and almost a fifth (17.8%) of total sugar had been removed since 2012, according to Gareth Barrett, public affairs manager at the BSDA.
Factoring in the 4.5% sector volume growth over the same period, total sugar content had fallen by 22.3% since 2012, he added.
Addressing delegates at the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum keynote seminar on implementing the childhood obesity plan, at the end of January, Barrett said that manufacturers were meeting growing public demand for lower-calorie products.
Low-sugar and zero calorie
However, he suggested that much of this demand had been met by a switch to low-sugar and zero calorie brand extensions, rather than product reformulation.
A levy is to be applied to soft drinks containing more than 5% added sugar in April 2018.
“As a soft-drinks sector, the UK is moving further and faster [in sugar reduction] than anyone else in the world,” Barrett said.
“Consumer tastes have driven a lot of this – people are turning to zero variants. Therefore, innovation and brand expansion is probably more effective than reformulation.”
Sector-wide total sugar reductions
Barrett was optimistic that 2017 would herald further sector-wide total sugar reductions, given that recent reformulation moves by the likes of Tesco and Danone had yet to make an impact. However, he warned that various market challenges could impede progress.
“Brexit is going to have an effect on sugar quotas. If we move to World Trade Organisation rules, sugar prices will go down, while the cost of stevia and other artificial sweeteners will rise considerably. It could have a huge impact,” he said.
“There is also a ‘real sugar’ movement in the US, which is turning people away from diet and zero drinks. While it hasn’t happened in the UK yet, it’s a dangerous trend.”
Barrett acknowledged a move towards smaller pack sizes, but conceded that the sector hadn’t worked out a way to address the perception that consumers were being “ripped off”.