Around 80% of the non-alcoholic beverage industry, including major brands such as Coca-Cola South Pacific, Coca-Cola Amatil, PepsiCo, Asahi Beverages and Frucor Suntory have pledged their commitment to the initiative.
The plan will be carried out in two phases, namely a 10% sugar reduction by 2020 from 2016 levels, which will then be followed by a total reduction of 20% by 2025.
Earlier on, there were rumours that the 20% sugar reduction will take place by 2020, which is five years earlier than the newly confirmed plan. The rumours were recently refuted by major industry players.
The sugar reduction plan will affect carbonated soft drinks, energy drinks, sports and electrolyte drinks, frozen drinks, bottled and packaged waters, juice and fruit drinks, cordials, iced teas, ready-to-drink coffees, flavoured milk products and flavoured plant milks.
The council said the move is to promote healthier lifestyles and to tackle obesity in Australia.
“This commitment is the first example in Australia where an industry as a whole has self-regulated its use of sugar in this manner,” said Geoff Parker, chief executive officer at the Australian Beverages Council.
In preparing for the plan, it said it had consulted health bodies, NGOs and government departments over the last two years.
The plan was welcomed by the government, with Australia’s Minister for Health, the Honourable Greg Hunt, MP, making the announcement at Parliament House yesterday.
“The Turnbull government supports considered and appropriate action to tackle obesity, and encourages all Australians to live healthier lives,” said the minister.
Previously, Alison Watkins, chief executive of Coca-Cola Amatil said that further sugar reduction is something that the industry “must do” if it does not want to end up with more regulations.
Progress to be reviewed by auditor
The companies’ progress in sugar reduction will be evaluated by an independent auditor, who will be appointed by the council.
The auditor will certify individual company portfolios confidentially to assess progress and contribution to the industry’s pledge.
“All stakeholders, including the government, expect us to critically evaluate this initiative. We intend to ensure a rigorous and continuous independent review process through to 2025 to ensure all signatories contribute to the industry’s commitment to reduce sugar,” Parker added.
Increasing volume sales of low and no sugar varieties, promoting consumption of bottled water by young Australians, and including low or no sugar beverages into vending machines are some recommendations that the council has given to firms committed to the 20% sugar reduction.
Other initiatives include reformulating existing products, implementing a cap in sugar content for both existing and new products, and reducing average container sizes.
More reduction to come?
Sugar reduction “is a trend that is and should continue over the course of the coming decades", according to Hunt.
And when asked if the government would continue to pressure soft drink makers to cut sugar by more than 20%, he told The Sydney Morning Herald: "We'll talk in 2025.”
On the other hand, Parker acknowledged that while further sugar reduction would be "quite costly" and "really hard" for drink manufacturers, it nonetheless has "nothing to do" with warding off a sugar tax.
Bearing in mind the need for consumers’ choice, he added that the high-sugar versions of drinks such as Coke would "absolutely" still be available.
Regional sugar reduction effects
In Singapore, the Health Promotion Board announced in February that it aims to get locals to cut their sugar intake by nearly a quarter by 2020.
To do so, it is setting guidelines targeted at sugar reduction in sauces, sweet drinks and desserts.
Elsewhere in Hong Kong, authorities have refrained from adopting sugar taxes, preferring to implement a new food and beverage labelling system instead.
However, they added that a sugar tax will become an option if “all else fails” in its fight against non-communicable diseases.
The Philippines, Sri Lanka and Brunei are some Asian countries that have implemented sugar taxes.