FSA proposal for 250ml soft drinks could prove costly

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Soft drinks, Soft drink, Food standards agency

Implementing the Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommendation that makers of soft drinks with added sugar should introduce 250ml cans and bottles could cost the industry upwards of £10m, according to the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA).

At the end of last week, the FSA unveiled new proposals for the food and drink industry on saturated fat and sugar.

For beverage manufacturers, the FSA said all soft drinks containing added sugar should be made available in a 250ml format by 2015 and offer proportional value for money so as to encourage consumers to switch to the new size.

Jill Ardagh, director general of the BSDA, said the industry is committed to offering a wide range of pack sizes.

Pack size

But the industry spokesperson said that currently there are very few 250ml bottles and cans so following the FSA recommendation would require a lot of investment. She estimated the move, which would involve considerable changes to canning and bottling lines, could cost industry upwards of £10m.

The final FSA recommendation on soft drink portion sizes contains some revisions from the original draft proposals.

Potentially implying higher costs for industry, the FSA made explicit in the final document that the 250ml packs should offer proportional value for money compared to larger formats. This is to encourage take-up of the smaller format.

But one revision to the draft may be a relief for some drinks makers in the UK. Instead of applying the recommendation to all soft drinks containing sugar, the FSA said it should only extend to products with added sugar.

The FSA said: “The revision clarifies that the recommendation applies to those drinks containing added sugar (and not, for example, to juice drinks containing water and pure fruit juice only).”

Sugar content

The other significant recommendation for the beverage industry in the new document is that drinks containing 8 g of total sugar/100 ml should have added sugar content cut by at least 4 per cent by 2012 compared to 2008 levels.

The FSA said this reduction should be accompanied by a calorie reduction unless a technical case can be made that this is not achievable. For new drinks containing more than 8 g of total sugar/100 ml, the FSA said the product should have at least 4 per cent less sugar than the nearest equivalent existing product on the market in 2008.

The reaction of the BSDA to this proposal was mixed. Ardagh said producing low sugar products is an aim in line with market needs and the industry has made significant progress already in this regard.

But the BSDA director general was critical of the details. She said: “I don’t know where the 4 per cent figure from the FSA is coming from – it seems rather arbitrary.”

No legal force

If industry is not happy with the recommendations then it is not obliged to follow the sugar-reduction and portion size plans.

Owen Warnock, partner and food law expert at Eversheds said: “The FSA's recommendations are just that: recommendations. They have no legal force, and simply follow the pattern established by the FSA in its successful campaign to work with food manufacturers to lower the level of salt in foods.”

One corner of the soft drinks market that will be under no pressure to introduce changes is the sports and energy drinks niche. The recommendations do not apply to these products because they currently command just 3 per cent of the total soft drinks market.

The FSA said health associations were concerned about this, but the regulator decided to leave these products out to encourage businesses to focus on the products that will deliver the greatest public health benefits

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