Driving Europe towards a healthier soft drink environment

by Ian Ellington, President of UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe and Senior Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer, PepsiCo Europe

As we, Europe’s soft drinks sector, celebrate the one-year anniversary of our new and enhanced health and nutrition commitments, this seems a timely moment to take stock of our actions to create a healthier soft drink environment in Europe.

Our sector has a long and successful history of taking its responsibility with tangible voluntary actions that make a difference in how and what Europeans drink. The most recent example of our determination to take further steps is the whole range of commitments that we made last year under the umbrella of the EU Code of Conduct on responsible food business and practices.

Our ongoing sugar reduction pledges and responsible marketing and advertising practices towards children are essential pillars of our commitments. Fundamentally, they represent our contribution to a healthier drink environment in Europe, in support of the European Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy’s goal of making the easy choice the heathier choice.


On our way to achieving a 33% overall sugar reduction by 2025

Our sugar reduction journey started more than 50 years ago with our first efforts to offer products with no calories or sugar in the 1970s.

In more recent years, we have accelerated our actions to reduce sugar in our beverages, reaching major milestones on the way. Firstly, we delivered on our first sugar reduction commitment by achieving a 13.3% reduction in average added sugars in our drinks between 2000 and 2015. Secondly, we were the only sector to respond to the EU call for a 10% added sugars reduction by 2020 with a second sugar reduction commitment that we implemented successfully – and well ahead of time: we reached a 14.6% reduction in average added sugars between 2015 and 2019.

We are now pushing forward with efforts to meet our third sugar reduction target: a further 10% reduction in average added sugars in our drinks in the EU27 and the UK from 2019 to 2025. This would represent an impressive 33% overall sugar reduction since 2000.

As part of our third sugar reduction commitment, I want to share another significant achievement: we reached a 3.6% reduction in average added sugars in our beverages between 2019 and 2021. This means that since 2015 we have already reduced sugar by 17.7%.

We are committed to continuing to offer more no- or low- calorie products and to increase the availability and range of small packs to encourage consumers towards heathier drink options and facilitate moderate consumption. The European share of no- and low-calorie drinks is 29% with several countries having even higher rates (for instance, 56% in Norway, 55% in Ireland, 42% in Sweden and 40% in Spain).


Further strengthening our responsible marketing and advertising practices towards children

Also amongst our latest health and nutrition commitments are our sector’s enhanced marketing and advertising practices towards children. We pledged to raise the minimum age limit from 12 to 13 years old and to lower the audience threshold to 30% to ensure that fewer young children will be directly exposed to advertising for any of our soft drinks. We also decided to expand the scope of channels where we will not market or advertise.

On this note, I want to highlight that several UNESDA companies are a member of the EU Pledge, a flagship voluntary commitment on responsible food and beverage marketing to children. Particularly worthy of mention is the latest results from the EU Pledge 2021 monitoring report. They show that EU Pledge members achieved high compliance rates last year: 98.84% on TV, 96.49% on company-owned websites, 96.53% on company-owned social media profiles, and 100% on influencer profiles.


Policy support is key

Our sector is doing its part to promote healthier lifestyles in Europe and will continue to take action. However, we also need EU authorities and national governments to provide policy cohesion and an enabling framework to support initiatives that aim to promote a healthier way of eating and drinking.

One of the fundamental points is to consider voluntary approaches to sugar reduction as an efficient alternative to regulation or taxation. It is also paramount to promote the safety and benefits of low-calorie sweeteners, which are evaluated as safe by the European Food Safety Authority.

We look forward to partnering with all stakeholders to enhance positive health outcomes for Europeans.


National sugar reduction pledges continue to gain momentum

Our sector’s sugar reduction commitment at EU level under the EU Code of Conduct has been a catalyst for national sugar reduction pledges, led by UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe’s national member associations. We have already seen more than a dozen of new pledges. To name but a few:

  • The Austrian soft drinks sector is working towards reducing average added sugars in its drinks by 15% by 2025.
  • The soft drinks sector in Belgium has pledged to reduce added sugars by a further 7% by 2025, after achieving a 25% reduction in sugar between 2012 and 2020.
  • In Denmark, soft drinks producers are pursuing the goal of reducing average added sugars in their products by 15% by 2030.
  • The Italian soft drink sector has committed to a further 10% reduction in sugar by 2022. This follows a 27% sugar reduction between 2009 and 2019.
  • In Latvia, the soft drinks sector aims to reduce average added sugars in its beverages by 20% by 2030.
  • The soft drinks sector in Spain has recently committed to reducing average added sugars in its beverages by a further 10% by 2025, which will represent a 53% overall reduction in average added sugars between 2005 and 2025. It also announced that 50% of its beverage portfolio will be no- or low-calorie drinks by 2025.
  • The Swedish soft drinks sector is committed to delivering a further 15% reduction in average added sugars by 2025. This comes on top of its 10% sugar reduction achieved between 2015 and 2018, ahead of the 2020 deadline.

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