What is the beverage industry doing to cut calories?

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: iStock / piotr_malczk
Pic: iStock / piotr_malczk

Related tags Soft drink

From reformulation to nutritional labeling, the non-alcoholic beverage industry has adopted a variety of strategies to reduce the calorie content of drinks. We look at how different strategies from around the world are being implemented. 

Worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980, according to statistics from the World Health Organization. Soda and soft drinks often find themselves in the firing line in the mainstream media over sugar and calorie content: but the industry says it has been tackling the obesity crisis.

Initiatives include an increased number of products with lower or no calories, with importance placed on giving consumers choice. In some cases standard products have been reformulated to cut calories as well.

Nutritional labeling on drinks aim to show people how many calories they are consuming. Smaller pack sizes, too, help control portion sizes.

Given the particular concern over childhood obesity, many companies have agreed to refrain from marketing in places where a large percentage of the audience is likely to be children.

But there are challenges in reducing calories in beverages, too. Reducing or replacing sugar comes with technical issues, and consumer acceptance of new drinks is also a challenge.

International: Including social media in marketing guidelines

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The International Council of Beverages Associations (ICBA) counts a number of national associations as well as The Coca-Cola Company, Dr Pepper Snapple, PepsiCo and Red Bull among its members.

More beverage options with fewer calories, and a smaller portion size options, are some of the efforts it has seen.

In 2011, it developed the ICBA Guidelines on Nutrition Labeling to guide the industry on how to provide easily understandable, fact-based nutritional information.

“Over the years, many ICBA member companies and associations have developed and/or engaged in voluntary front-of-pack calorie labeling initiatives to make the number of calories in their products even clearer to consumers,” ​the association told BeverageDaily.  

“For example, the European soft drink industry now provides clear front-of-pack calorie labeling so people can see easily the amount of calories in their drinks. Companies have gone further than EU legislation on nutrition labeling, which is not legally required until December 2016, and there is no legal requirement at all for front-of-pack labeling.  

"The average calories per 100 ml of soft drink have been reduced by 11.5% since 2000"


“This has all had a positive effect. Today, the average calories per 100 ml of soft drink have been reduced by 11.5% since 2000 and soft drinks represent less than 3% of the calories in an average European diet.”

Last year the ICBA enhanced its guidelines on marketing to children, updating them to include guidance for social media.

“Member companies commit not to place marketing communications in child-directed media where 35% or more of the audience consists of children under the age of 12. The enhanced guidelines also cover additional technologies such as company-controlled content in social media. Members will start transitioning their existing guidelines to these enhanced 2015 ICBA Guidelines, ensuring that they are applied consistently at a global level by December 31, 2016.”

US: leveraging the marketing muscle of beverage companies


The American Beverage Association has set a goal to reduce beverage calories consumed per person in the US by 20% by 2025.

“America’s leading beverage companies are doing their part to help Americans balance their beverage calories,” ​said the association. “As an industry, we are providing more low- and no-calorie options and smaller-portion sizes than ever before, as well as clear, easy-to-read calorie information on the front of all of our packaging to help empower people to make the choice that’s right for them.

"We have set a goal to reduce beverage calories consumed per person nationally by 20% by 2025"

American Beverage Association

“Our biggest initiative to-date is our Balanced Calories Initiative, which we launched last year with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. We have set a goal to reduce beverage calories consumed per person nationally by 20% by 2025, the single-largest voluntary effort by an industry to address obesity. Using their marketing muscle, product innovation, distribution strength and education, America’s leading beverage companies are driving measurable change across our nation.”

Canada: beverage calories down 20%

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The Canadian Beverage Association says it wants to continue the decrease in beverage calories that it has seen over the past decade.

“In October 2015, the Canadian beverage industry launched the Balance Calories campaign, which has the ambitious goal of reducing beverage calories by 20% per capita by 2025. We will leverage strengths in marketing and innovation, and vast distribution networks to increase consumer access to beverages with reduced calories.

“Looking back over the past decade, we saw that beverage calories in Canada had gone down by 20%, which we recognized as a positive trend. As we projected out over the next ten years it was clear that this trend wasn’t going to continue. However, the Canadian industry has been very successful with implementing industry-led programs - and although Canadians only consume 4% of daily calories from our products - we have a role to play in supporting balanced beverage choices.

“Balance Calories builds on Clear on Calories, the front-of-pack calorie label; the voluntary restriction of marketing to children; and the elimination of full calorie soft drinks from elementary, middle and high schools.”

Europe: Markets vary by country

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Reformulation of existing products, new launches with reduced or zero calories, nutritional labeling per portion and per 100ml, and smaller pack sizes to help people manage portion control are among the industry efforts in Europe, says UNESDA, which represents the soft drinks industry in the region.

“Average calories per 100ml of soft drinks were reduced by 11.5% from 2000-2013,” ​the association told BeverageDaily.

“Brands such as Fanta and Sprite have been reformulated with 30% less sugar in many markets. More than 50% of new product introductions were no/low calorie products over this period and pack sizes under 33cl have increased by 150%.

“Consumption patterns and preferences vary a great deal across the 28 EU countries. In Britain, for example, no and low calorie drinks account for 44% of the market. In Italy they account for just 7% and in some countries it’s even lower.

"In Britain, no/low calorie drinks account for 44% of the market. In Italy they account for just 7%"


“So consumer acceptance is a key challenge. Other challenges are technical and regulatory - finding technical solutions to reducing or replacing sugar and ensuring an optimal regulatory environment to support innovation and calorie reduction.”

UK: need to focus on overall calorie consumption


Purchases of regular soft drinks in Great Britain fell by 32% between 2010 and 2014, while low calorie drinks purchases increased by more than a third, says the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA), quoting government data. The majority of soft drinks now sold in the UK are low and no calorie including nearly half of all carbonates, it adds.

Gavin Partington, BSDA Director General, said: “UK soft drinks manufacturers have significantly reduced the calories and sugar in their products year on year since 2012 with each year surpassing the previous one.

“Through product innovation, reformulation, availability of smaller pack sizes and a considerable increase in advertising spend on low and no calorie options we have reduced the calorie and sugar intake of our consumers by 13.5%.

“Efforts by soft drinks companies are clearly having a positive impact but calorie and sugar intake from other major food categories is rising, which is why we need to focus on overall calorie consumption rather than singling out one product and its sugar content.”

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