The Australian Beverages Council pledge has the backing of firms such as Coca-Cola South Pacific, Coca-Cola Amatil, PepsiCo, Asahi Beverages and Frucor Suntory, with more expected to come on board in the coming months.
“This is a fantastic initiative by Australian Beverages Council and certainly an area that the New Zealand Beverage Council is excited to be talking to our members about,” said Stephen Jones, communications and engagement manager of the NZBC.
“Not only is this pledge about reducing the contribution over-consumption of sugary drinks makes to our obesity rates, it is about increasing choice for consumers through the development of new low and no-sugar varieties.”
Recently, Coca-Cola New Zealand was the first in the world to launch Coca-Cola Stevia No Sugar, which is 100% sweetened with Stevia.
“Increasingly, we are seeing Kiwis wanting to consume less sugar, so we have been working hard for a number of years to develop different drinks that suit every lifestyle and occasion that still taste great,” said Sandhya Pillay, general manager of Coca-Cola Oceania.
Not long ago, Alison Watkins, chief executive of Coca-Cola Amatil, said the company aimed to reduce sugar across its entire portfolio in Australia and New Zealand by 10% by 2020.
The firm said it has reduced sugar by an average of 21.8% across ﬁve key products — Sparkling Duet Raspberry, Fanta Raspberry, Powerade ION4, Fanta Grape and Kerry Fruity Drink — since 2015, and seven reformulations of product recipes are planned by the end of this year.
“The average kilojoule content of beverages in The Coca-Cola Company portfolio in New Zealand has reduced by 3% each year over the past three years,” said Chris Litchfield, managing director, Coca-Cola Amatil New Zealand and Fiji.
Criticism and sugar tax calls
However, health advocacy groups and other stakeholders such as the Obesity Policy Coalition have still issued strong warnings.
“Coca-Cola is not in the business of health. It is in the business of selling drinks, and its job is to return a profit to shareholders by selling a lot of these — mostly sugary — drinks,” said Jane Martin, executive manager, Obesity Policy Coalition.
She added that Coca-Cola Amatil’s fierce opposition to a health levy to increase the price of sugary drinks is not surprising as it’s the largest manufacturer of such products in the region.
“Coca-Cola knows that pricing changes behaviour, which is why it recently has reduced the price of bottled water and iced teas in an effort to revive flagging sales,” said Martin.
Likewise, last August, the New Zealand Beverage Guidance Panel released a policy brief “to highlight the urgency for placing a tax on sugary drinks in New Zealand”.
It said: “A tax on sugary drinks (SDs) is reasonable and necessary and will contribute to reducing the burden of obesity, type-2 diabetes, tooth decay and a number of other diseases.
“A tax on SDs will create an environment where healthier drink options are more attractive (in terms of cost) and more freely available to consumers.”
The panel added, in New Zealand, public support for an SD tax is strong, with most people supporting the tax to address childhood obesity.
Other views, and healthier Kiwis?
On the other hand, Jones added, “While the over-consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages will cause weight gain, it is far too simplistic to blame their consumption on our obesity rates. In fact, sales of these beverages has actually been falling as consumers switch to low and no-sugar varieties while obesity rates have continued to climb.
“If we are serious about reducing New Zealand's obesity rates, we need to take an holistic approach, improving our understanding of the actual causes of obesity and develop interventions that will have a meaningful impact, rather than demonising particular products or brands or promoting headline-grabbing interventions.”
Nonetheless, according to the NZBC, many New Zealanders are health-conscious over their choice of beverage.
The council stated that 32% of Kiwis never drink soft drinks, while 40% of adults who drink soft drinks drink non-sugar soft drinks. Water is also the most consumed drink in New Zealand, while soft drink consumption continues to decrease.
Regarding a possible industry-wide sugar reduction in New Zealand, Jones said, “The work being undertaken by the beverage industry shows that we are up for the challenge.”