Reformulation on a mass scale? Sugar, stevia, sweeteners: the sticky question of a soft drink shake up

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Sprite reduced calories in March 2013
Sprite reduced calories in March 2013

Related tags Soft drinks Coca-cola

The launch of reduced sugar soft drinks is a step forward; but reformulating standard versions to contain less sugar would have a much bigger impact on health, according to Euromonitor International. But would big brands be open to the idea? 

The average global consumer buys 765 calories each day through packaged food and soft drinks – with the latter accounting for 8% of this figure. 90 more calories will be purchased per day by 2019.

The data comes from Euromonitor’s Passport: Nutrition database, which was launched this week. The market research company has looked at the total amount of nutrients purchased every day in packaged food and soft drinks, such as energy, fat, sugar, protein and fibre.

Reformulation vs diet versions

Low sugar or low calorie versions of soft drinks are commonplace these days.  Euromonitor analyst Lauren Bandy told consumers accept these offerings as equals (unlike food, where low fat or low calorie versions are often considered inferior in taste).

However – although diet versions are a laudable ‘step forward’ – Euromonitor says reformultating standard products to reduce sugar would have a much wider impact. 

If all soft drinks globally were reformulated to contain 30% fewer calories, then 90bn fewer calories would be purchased from soft drinks every day, it believes.

But would big brands be open to the idea of changing their winning formula?  

“Established brands, like original Coca-Cola or Pepsi, they are massive because of brand recognition,” ​said Bandy. “They are popular with consumers, and for that reason they are unwilling to change the formulation. If they suddenly cut sugar, it will taste different.

“The last thing they want to do - in what’s already a tough market - is start messing with formulation, and that’s understandable from a business sense. So there’s some reluctance and some hesitancy.

“But there is also a lot of development. Sprite has been reformulated using stevia.” [The brand reduced calories by 30% by introducing stevia to its UK drink in 2013]

“ It’s not as big as Coca-Cola or Pepsi, but it is a main brand.

“[But] I don’t think there’s sufficient pressure – it’s growing, but not sufficient.”

Coca-Cola in Canada will be ‘slightly less sweet’ this year​, in an effort the company says will reduce calories - but this move only brings the drink in line with its offer across the rest of the world.

Reducing the regular pack size is another method to reduce calories, Euromonitor adds.

‘Legislation on soft drinks is only going to get tighter’

Global calorie intake, packaged food

Bakery: 27%

Oils and fats: 18%

Dried processed food: 15%

Dairy: 11%

Soft drinks: 8%

Confectionery: 4%

Snacks: 4% 

Other: 13%

The world buys 1.5 trillion calories every day, according to the Euromonitor database. That’s an average of 765 calories per capita, per day, from packaged food and soft drinks (the recommended total intake is 2,000 for an adult).

8% of these calories come from soft drinks (compared with 27% from bakery, 11% from dairy, and 4% from confectionery).

That equates to 12g of sugar purchased from within the soft drinks category per capita, per day.

That figure is much higher in the US, thanks to the sheer volume of soft drinks sold and consumed. In Latin America, Canada, and Australia, the figure is also higher than average.

Conversely, sugar purchased within the soft drinks category in a number of Asian countries is quite low – such as India (1g), Indonesia (4g), and Japan (5g).

While soft drinks contain relatively little sugar per 100g/ml compared to other categories (ie confectionery, cakes, pastries and snacks), it is the single largest contributing category to total sugar purchasing.

Coca Cola Life - a low calorie version sweetened with stevia

Euromonitor acknowledges certain measures taken by big players in recent years – funding activity programmes, adopting front-of-pack labelling, new variants (in particular Coca Cola Life and Pepsi True, which are partially sweetened with stevia) and smaller packaging sizes.

But the World Health Organisation is expected to halve the guideline for added sugar intake, and countries such as Mexico and France are already implementing taxes on soft drinks.

With this in mind, Euromonitor believes ‘legislation regarding soft drinks is only going to get tighter.’

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1 comment

New InTheRaw Beverages Mid-Calorie Beverages

Posted by Jeffrey Buntin,

I saw these at Expo West this month in Anaheim. The are made by the makers of Sugar In The Raw. They are 70 calories each made with Fair Trade Sugar In The Raw and Stevia In The Raw with only 70 calories.
Flavors are:
Cola, Lemonade and Iced Tea. They were fantastic!

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