Under the levy, first proposed in the 2016 Budget in an effort to tackle obesity, soft drinks manufacturers have to pay an 18p charge per litre for products with added sugar, and a total sugar content of 5g or more per 100ml, with a higher charge of 24p per litre for drinks with 8g or more per 100ml. Pure fruit juices and products with a high milk content are exempt from the levy.
The two-year lead-in time was designed to give manufacturers the opportunity to reformulate their products.
The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) said taxation was not the correct way to go about improving health.
“While we recognise health issues associated with obesity are a serious matter, it’s important to note that obesity is a complex issue with a number of factors and there is no evidence to suggest a tax will reduce obesity.
“As an industry we recognise we have a role to play in tackling obesity. Soft drinks companies have been engaged in a range of calorie reduction initiatives for many years – resulting in a 19% reduction in sugar intake (from soft drinks) since 2013. Current data illustrates that a tax of this sort on a single category will not have a meaningful impact on obesity levels.
“We all have a role to play in helping to tackle obesity and we hope our actions on sugar reduction, portion size and promotion of low- and no-calorie products set an example for the wider food sector.”
A Food and Drink Federation (FDF) spokesperson told Food Manufacture: “FDF has long called for a ‘whole diet’ approach to tackling obesity that does not single out individual ingredients or nutrients. There is scant evidence to suggest that the introduction of a soft drinks levy will prove effective in reducing obesity levels, nor will it help consumers develop a realistic and balanced approach to their diet and general health.
“Responding to consumer demand, the soft drinks sector committed voluntarily to reduce calories in soft drinks by 20% by 2020, before the levy was announced. In fact, sugar in soft drinks has reduced by 19% since 2013. Manufacturers across the wider food industry have already responded positively to Public Health England’s sugars reduction programme as well as the more recently announced calorie reduction programme. While these targets are ambitious, manufacturers have been taking major steps towards these goals for a number of years by reformulating products, limiting portion sizes, and introducing healthier products to the market.
“We believe innovating in this way to help lower calorie intakes is a much more effective approach to tackling the nation’s obesity problem.”
Unsurprisingly, health bodies welcomed its implementation. The Royal Society for Public Health chief executive Shirley Cramer praised the progress made by drinks manufacturers ahead of today. “We are delighted to welcome the introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy as a key measure in tackling the UK’s obesity crisis. What has been hugely encouraging to see are the steps that have already been taken by many leading manufacturers in response, to reformulate their products and help consumers reduce their sugar consumption.”