Europe’s soft drinks industry is committed to making the healthier choice, the easy choice

By Ian Ellington, president of UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe

The sector is playing its part in creating a healthier and more sustainable food system in Europe but urgent action by all food sectors is required to achieve wider positive health impacts

The global food system will face unprecedented health and environmental challenges in the coming decades. Providing high quality, safe, accessible, and nutritious beverages to consumers will require collaboration from all stakeholders, including industry, policymakers, consumers, and civil society.

We, UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe, fully support the European Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy which aims to improve the food environment and promote healthier lifestyles and wellbeing. Creating a healthier and more sustainable food system is essential and requires urgent action by all sectors of society. The soft drinks industry is doing its part to create a healthier food environment so that the healthier choice becomes the easy choice for consumers.

 

 

Taking meaningful voluntary actions to encourage healthier dietary habits

Over the past two decades, we have taken a series of voluntary actions including reducing the sugar content of our products and the size of our packaging, promoting responsible marketing and advertising practices to children as well as school policies and consumer information that encourages healthier lifestyles and enables consumers to better manage their intake of added sugars from soft drinks.

Some of these actions include reformulating existing products to contain less sugar, developing new products with no- and low-calories and offering smaller pack sizes to encourage portion control. As a result, we reduced the average amount of added sugars in soft drinks by 26 percent from 2000 to 2019 and, in the last decade, over 60 percent of all new beverages that we have introduced are no- or low- sugar and calories. We have now achieved over 25 percent market share with no- and low-calorie products, with some markets as high as 40-50 percent. We have also invested in offering consumers the choice of over 30 different pack formats under 300ml.

Our efforts to promote healthier drink environments also include clear school policies based on the commitment not to sell and advertise any soft drinks in primary schools and offer only no- and low-calorie soft drinks for sale in EU secondary schools and only in non-branded vending machines.  Here too we are achieving high compliance rates around Europe.

We have also implemented responsible business and marketing practices to children to create healthier lifestyles, in support of the World Health Organization Recommendations to reduce the impact on children of marketing of foods high in fat, sugars, salt (‘HFSS’).

Our voluntary actions have proven to be effective. According to the WHO’s Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) reports, the frequency of soft drinks consumption by children across all age groups has reduced significantly, while obesity rates continue to increase. Several national dietary statistics also show that, while obesity rates continue to increase, the intake of soft drinks has reduced, and other food categories are the main contributors to total sugar intake.

 

 

Taking a step further with our new and enhanced health and nutrition commitments

Recognising the need to evolve with the changing landscape, we embrace the opportunity to reiterate our commitments and contribute to broader improvements in people’s diets. We recently announced a range of new and enhanced health and nutrition commitments, which have been submitted to the EU Code of Conduct on Responsible Business and Marketing Practices, as part of our contribution to create a healthier and more sustainable food system in Europe.

We have also committed to a further 10 percent reduction in average added sugars in our soft drinks, between 2019 and 2025 across the EU-27 and the UK. This will represent an overall reduction of 33 percent in average added sugars over the past two decades.

We are also enhancing our commitment not to market or advertise any soft drinks to children. We will raise the minimum age limit to 13 years old and lower the audience threshold to 30 percent so that in practice fewer young children will be directly exposed to advertising for any of our soft drinks. We will complement these actions by expanding the scope of channels where we will not market or advertise to children. We will intensify our efforts to ensure that our school commitments are fully implemented across the EU and continue to reach high levels of compliance.

Lastly, we will actively contribute to the establishment of an evidence-based, EU-wide, harmonised, and interpretative front-of-pack nutrition system that is meaningful for consumers, encourages food producers to reformulate, and is developed under an EU governance model.

 

 

An enabling policy framework to deliver on its commitments and drive positive change at scale

To achieve our goals and mobilise the necessary critical mass, we need policy cohesion and an enabling policy framework at EU and Member State level.

While our actions are paying off, we recognise that achieving positive health outcomes is a multifaceted effort that is influenced by multiple factors, including lifestyle preferences, individual genetics/health conditions and physical activity levels. Hence, we call on EU policymakers to drive action from stakeholders inside and outside the food and beverage sector to help address public health concerns and deliver meaningful impact on a broader scale.

We call on the European Commission to consider meaningful voluntary approaches to sugar reduction as efficient alternatives to regulation. In addition, we believe that it is crucial that policymakers support the use of ingredients, such as low-calorie sweeteners, approved as safe by health authorities, and develop evidence-based dietary recommendations.

At the same time, we call for regular and reliable pan-European monitoring of food and drink consumption intakes and patterns so that we can design interventions that target population groups at risk.

We remain committed to making the healthier choice the easy choice. We welcome the EU Code of Conduct and look forward to seeing our industry partners and other stakeholders join efforts to implement additional voluntary actions with impactful health changes.

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