Sugar tax encourages 'healthier purchases' without excessively hitting retailer revenues: Australian trial

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Price increases represented “a promising tool” to encourage more healthy purcases, say researchers. ©iStock
Price increases represented “a promising tool” to encourage more healthy purcases, say researchers. ©iStock
A 20% sugar-sweetened beverage price increase would reduce sales and increase purchases of healthier options — while not hitting retailer revenues, according to a small trial in Australia.

Politicians in Australia have repeatedly refused​ to introduce a sugar tax, which has become an increasingly popular policy instrument in some Asian and European nations.

This is despite health campaigners claiming that it is urgently needed to help tackle rising obesity and diabetes rates.

Opponents of such a scheme claim it is a blunt instrument that would not address the wider health issues.

Therefore, researchers in Australia said limited evidence has been gathered on the real-world impact of SSB taxes on purchasing behaviour over time.

They conducted a trial where beverages were classified using a state government framework. Prices of “red” beverages (e.g. non-diet soft drinks and energy drinks) increased by 20%.

Prices of “amber” (e.g. diet soft drinks, small pure fruit juices) and “green” beverages (e.g. water) were unchanged.

Changes in beverage volume, item sales, and revenue during the intervention were compared with predicted sales.

The researchers found that sales of red and amber beverages decreased, with the volume of green beverage sales increasing.

Furthermore, the store manager and staff considered the intervention business-neutral, despite a small reduction in beverage revenue. Fifteen percent of customers noticed the price difference and 61% supported the intervention.

Downward trend

“Relative to predicted sales during that period, a 20% price increase on red beverages resulted in a significant reduction in red volume beverage sales by 10.8% in the first week, which widened to a 27.6% decrease by the 17th intervention week.

“Similar decreases were seen also in amber volume sales. There was a significant downward trend in sales, with a 26.7% decrease. The effect of the intervention on the sale volume of green beverages widened during the 17-week intervention period. There was a significant upward trend in sales, increasing to a 26.9% increase in volume of green beverages sold by the 17th week.”

They concluded that SSB price increases represented “a promising tool”​ for retailers wanting to provide a healthy food and beverage environment for their customers.

They added that further investigation into the potential impact and feasibility of community retail settings as a bottom-up approach to supporting improved consumer beverage choices is warranted, but maintained that “these results also provide support for legislative SSB taxation as a government-led policy to improve the healthiness of consumer beverage purchases.”

Source: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics rights and content

Retailer-Led Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Price Increase Reduces Purchases in a Hospital Convenience Store in Melbourne, Australia: A Mixed Methods Evaluation

Authors: Miranda R.Blake, et al

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