SUPERMARKET giant Tesco has announced plans to cut sugar in its soft drinks range – becoming the first major retailer to commit to an extensive sugar reduction programme.
It said it would implement a five per cent year-on-year open-ended reduction in sugar across its entire sugary soft drinks range and remove all added sugar from its Kids category from September.
It also pledged to move towards removing all added sugar from squash.
The move has been welcomed by campaigners calling for a reduction in added sugar in foods, which can cause obesity as well as contribute to illnesses such as diabetes.
UK Government health advisers have recommended that sugar consumption should be halved, from 10 per cent of daily energy intake, to five per cent.
Campaign group Action on Sugar welcomed the move. It said it had developed a “coherent action plan” to reduce excess calories in the UK’s diet by gradually reducing the amount of sugars added to soft drinks to allow people get used to less sugar – mirroring the work of Consensus Action on Salt and Health and the Food Standards Agency to improve salt reduction, leading to a 15 per cent drop in salt intakes.
Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar, said: “Incremental, unobtrusive reformulation is the key way of reducing calories across all sweetened drinks – merely having the option of ‘diet’ or ‘no sugar’ products does not work, particularly for the most socially deprived. We are delighted that Tesco has agreed that this is exactly the sort of action that we need, and all other retailers must follow suit.”
Action on Sugar has calculated that a 19 per cent reduction in sugar added to all soft drinks over the next four years is equivalent to removing approximately two teaspoons of sugar per can and would result in 477 billion calories – or 21 kcal per day – taken out of the UK diet.
Katharine Jenner, campaign director for Action on Sugar, added: “We have become a nation hooked on the white stuff, expecting all our food and drink to taste incredibly sweet, and it is making us overweight and obese.”
A spokesman for Tesco said the group had already cut the sugar content of its soft drinks by 30 per cent since 2012 and had a “commitment to continue this work”. He added: “Overall, our focus is to help customers make healthier choices – reformulation and calorie reduction in products is part of that.”
Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, defended the industry, saying that diet drinks now make up 60 per cent of the soft drinks market and insisting that many retailers have already reduced the amount of sugar in their product.
“Since 2012, there’s been a 7.3 per cent reduction in average calorie content across the soft drinks category, thanks to the efforts of major companies in the sector and retailers,” he said.
Research by Action on Sugar found that drinks marketed as more “traditional”, such as ginger beer or old-style lemonade, were actually more sugary than fizzy drinks like Coca-Cola. Old Jamaica Ginger Beer has 15.2g of sugar per 100ml, while Coke has 10.6g and Fanta Orange 6.9g.