Food Active responds to the Soft Drinks Industry Levy results

Food Active responds to the Soft Drinks Industry Levy results

Today Public Health England have published the long-awaited results from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, which came into force in April 2018 to help encourage industry to reformulate their products to contain less sugar, helping consumers towards reducing their excessive intake of daily free sugars.

Results from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) indicate:

  • a 28.8% sugar reduction per 100ml in retailer own brand and manufacturer branded products and a 27.2% reduction per 100ml for drinks consumed out of home
  • there was a consumer shift towards zero or lower sugar products, with sugar purchased from soft drinks decreasing in all socio-economic groups
  • 30,133 tonnes of sugar were removed without reducing soft drink sales, resulting in around 37.5 billion fewer kilocalories sold in sugary drinks each year

This demonstrates that there has been a significant reduction in the sugar content of sugary drinks since the implementation of the tax, showcasing how effective so-called ‘sin taxes’ actually are – contrary to what the current PM Boris Johnson stated earlier this year running his election campaign. Read our blog to find out more about why we disagreed with his comments entirely.

On the other hand, in the same report results from year two of Public Health England’s voluntary Sugar Reduction Programme (SRP) were also published. The SRP also challenged the food industry to reduce the sugar content of foods popular with children by 20% by 2020 – these included yogurts, breakfast cereals, sweet spreads and sauces, biscuits, ice cream, lollies and sorbets, chocolate confectionery, cakes, morning goods, puddings and sweet confectionery.

By stark contrast to the SDIL, there has been a huge lack of progress made by the food industry that falls significantly short of meeting the 20% reduction target by 2020. This is no surprise given the lack of progress reported in the first year progress report, where just three categories met the 5% year one reduction target. Similarly, the second year report found that there has been an overall 2.9% reduction in sugar in these categories since 2015, including:

  • Yogurts and fromage frais: -10.3%
  • Breakfast cereals: -8.5%
  • Sweet spreads and sauces: -4.6%
  • Biscuits: -0.6%
  • Ice cream, lollies and sorbets: -0.3%
  • Chocolate confectionery: -0.3%
  • Cakes: -4.8%
  • Morning goods: -3.6%

The report also in fact found there had been increases of sugar content per 100g in two categories; Puddings (+0.5%) and Sweet Confectionery (+0.6%). Whilst the average 2.9% reduction indicates little progress, we are pleased to see yogurts and breakfast cereals taking responsibility for their role in children’s excess sugar intake and rising to the challenge of reducing the sugar in their products. In saying that, even the best performing categories are way off the 20% target by 2020.

But why is there such a difference in impact between the two? One could argue that removing sugar from products such as cakes, pastries and confectionery is far more difficult given that sugar plays a pivitol role in the structure, taste and texture of these products, compared to soft drinks where artificial sweeteners can be added without any changes to consumer expectations. However, recent research from campaigners at Action On Sugar suggests that within the food categories in the SRP, the sugar content has increased on average by 23% in the last two decades. Furthermore, at present there is a wide variation of sugar content between brands and own brands. This therefore demonstrates that despite what companies say, clearly reformulation is possible because products were lower in sugar over two decades ago and there is a wide variation between brands when it comes to sugar and calorie content.

Another more solid explanation for the difference in impact between the SDIL and the sugar reduction programme is that industry simply had to take the SDIL seriously, given it was a tax. There were no ifs or buts – they either had to reformulate or pay the price. The simple fact that we have seen an increase in some of the categories in the SRP just illustrates that voluntary measures do not effectively catalyse change. There are no repercussions should they fail to meet the targets – so why should they go to the effort of reformulating their products?

The report published today has demonstrated two things; firstly, that the SDIL works – and extremely well for that matter. Secondly, that we will be waiting a long time if we are to see similar progress made in the voluntary SRP. The results from the SDIL will help to reduce consumption of free sugars at a population level, which countless evidence has shown is a key driver for some of the non-communicable diseases that the country is currently grappling with, including obesity and type 2 diabetes. We hope that this report is hard evidence for policy makers, and especially for Boris Johnson, that ‘sin taxes’ can be an effective and successful option for policies to improve public health outcomes.

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