Gavin Partington is the Director General of the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA). The BSDA is the collective voice of the British soft drinks industry. Here he explains the innovative ways the sector is helping to lead the way in sugar reduction. And how these efforts have helped to bring about a 16% reduction in the amount of sugar British people are consuming from soft drinks over the past 4 years.

I’ve been with the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) since 2012. It’s my role to look after the day-to-day running of the organization and to ensure the industry’s voice is heard on legal, technical and social issues concerning soft drinks to the media and political audiences.

The soft drinks industry employs over 15,000 people and supports over 340,000 jobs in the UK. The vast majority of Britain’s soft drinks manufacturers are members of BSDA, including Coca-Cola Great Britain. We're fortunate that some of the biggest brands in the world are producing such a wide range of beverages here in the UK.

What's more, the soft drinks sector is a significant contributor to the British economy, generating £11 billion a year; not only through economic growth, but through innovation, job creation and skills across the whole country. 

An innovative industry

As well as supporting the British economy and creating jobs, I am pleased to say that the UK soft drinks industry is also leading the way in reducing the amount of sugar people are consuming.

Soft drinks companies have been introducing new and innovative ways to help people reduce the sugar they consume from their drinks for many years now. And these innovations have helped lead to a 16% reduction in people’s sugar intake from soft drinks in the past four years. That’s not easy to do – it’s not something that happens overnight. There’s a lot of work that’s gone on to get us there.

Great tasting beverages with no sugar or calories

There aren’t many products that you can remove the sugar and calories from and they’ll still taste great. After all, first and foremost soft drinks need to taste great otherwise people won’t drink them.

Through complex reformulation techniques that take a significant amount of investment, time and ingenuity the soft drinks sector is at the forefront of producing enjoyable, low and no calorie beverages for their consumers. A prime example of this is the new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, which has been specially reformulated to taste more like Classic Coke without the sugar or calories.

Smart use of sweeteners

We have well-established mechanics for reducing sugar, like the use of sweeteners including newer innovations such as stevia. This is a plant that belongs to the chrysanthemum family – its leaves contain a unique source of natural sweetness and we are starting to see it be used in more and more beverages.

The soft drinks sector has gone even further than just cutting down on sugar and calories. Soft drinks companies have increased the availability of smaller pack sizes and have significantly increased the advertising spend on low and no calorie products: almost 60% of soft drinks now sold in the UK are low or no calorie.

Listening to consumers

The soft drinks industry has a long history of listening to our consumers and giving them what they want. Consumers' needs are clearly changing and as an industry we are responding by providing an ever wider range of beverages. Our members also have a proven history of sugar and calorie reduction initiatives. For example, look at Diet Coke – that’s a product that’s more than 30 years old now!

BSDA British Soft Drinks Association Sugar Reduction Kantar Data Coca-Cola Coke
Kantar Worldpanel: Nutrition, GB Take Home Shoping Baskets 52 w/e 22 May 2016 vs w/e 8 January 2012.

And the soft drinks sector is still ahead of the crowd when it comes to reducing the amount of sugar shoppers take home – that’s clear from the statistics. We’ve far and away made the biggest impact compared to other food and beverages. As an industry, we’ve been doing this for years – we’re a consumer-led business and we respond to what our consumers want.

Working together

Although we agree that there needs to be action taken to reduce sugar in our food and beverages, we believe that a tax won’t help. There is no evidence worldwide that food taxes have any impact on obesity levels.

Instead we believe the focus should be on overall diet and physical activity. We can help by offering consumers greater choice and more information, so they can make their own decisions.

What does the future hold?

We’re determined to build on the 16% reduction figure. In 2015 we became the only category with an ambitious plan for the years ahead – we agreed a calorie reduction goal of 20% by 2020.