Figures sent to us today by both beverage giants suggest that PepsiCo UK holds a significant lead over its bitter rival in the cola space.
A spokesman for PepsiCo UK told this publication: “The updated figure is that 68% of Pepsi retail sales in the UK are now Max/Diet.”
By way of contrast – although it failed to give out current figures – Coca-Cola Great Britain/Coca-Cola Enterprises stands by a March 2012 release where it claims to sell “more than” 40% of its Coke-branded colas in no calorie, zero sugar versions, namely Diet Coke or Coca-Cola Zero.
Guessing Coke’s sugar-free percentage
But one unnamed industry source told BeverageDaily.com: “Some wise birdies tell me that a bit over 50% of Coke’s cola sales in the UK are sugarfree. The company is coy in public, of course.”
“But what they committed to in the RD, which is Fanta and Sprite, is the least of what they are doing. You will be hearing more interesting news from them on the mainstream shortly,” he added.
“What pulls the sectoral average [down] is the poor quality and hence low sales of retailers’ own label sugarfree products," the source said.
Asked about further progress towards targets committed to as a signatory to the UK government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, the PepsiCo spokesman said that the firm made voluntary changes to Pepsi before the deal began.
The company reduced the sugar in regular Pepsi by 4%, and began using sugar-free Pepsi MAX to front its cola marketing activity.
“In 2011 we introduced new smaller 250ml cans to give shoppers a choice in portion sizes,” the spokesman said.
“We were also first to market a zero calorie vitamin water with SoBe. This stevia variety replaced the original sugar variant,” he added.
‘No news on 30% target’ – Coca-Cola Enterprises
Asked specific questions about its progress towards a 30% sugar cut in key drinks, a Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) UK spokeswoman told this publication: “There is no news yet on the 30% target, we will have this in due course.”
She referred us to a March 2012 CCE press release, which contained all the details the company was able to provide; this forms the basis for the 40% cola figure above.
The release also reiterates CCE’s two key actions: the plan to reduce calories by investing £15m in “reformulating several of our brands, cutting their calorie content by 30%”.
Secondly, CCE aims to increase its promotion of no-calorie drinks by boosting its associated marketing budget for them by 25% by the end of 2014.
“We expect this to result in a cut of 5% in the averages calories per liter of our sparkling drinks by the end of 2014,” the company added.
‘Heavy irony in public boasting’
Sugar cuts in soft drinks hit the news earlier this week when Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) pledged to cut sugar levels in Lucozade and Ribena by 10%, and AG Barr undertook to cut levels across its soft drinks portfolio by 5%.
This prompted influential retired nutrition policy Professor, Jack Winkler, to point out, in a letter sent to BeverageDaily.com, a “heavy irony in this public boasting”.
“Why cut sugar by 10% when you can cut it by 100%?” he asked rhetorically, noting EFSA’s review of high intensity sweetener aspartame a fortnight ago (which concluded that it was safe) and a trend towards growth in diet or light soft drinks, which demonstrated consumer approval for them.
Presented with these comments, British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) spokesman Richard Laming told BeverageDaily.com that product reformulation needed to keep pace with consumer tastes.
“It defeats the purpose if people simply switch from a reformulated product to something else,” Laming said.
“To reverse the trend in obesity will take a range of different actions. The idea that there is a single solution is mistaken. The changes being made to individual soft drinks are part of a much bigger and wider effort in which the soft drinks industry is playing its part,” he added.