The reformulation journey: How Suntory has reduced sugar in its drinks

By Nicola Pegg, Director of Research and Development at Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I

- Last updated on GMT

Pic:Suntory GB&I
Pic:Suntory GB&I

Related tags: sugar reduction, Sweeteners, Suntory Food & Beverage GB&I

Coming into force this October, new HFSS legislation is considered the most significant change to the food and drink industry in decades, but how can businesses use the upcoming milestone as an opportunity for brand innovation? Nicola Pegg, Director of Research and Development at Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I (SBF GB&I) explains the journey the maker of Lucozade and Ribena has been on to reduce sugar in its drinks.

Over the last six years, since the Government first announced the UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL), there has been a huge effort across our industry to reduce the sugar content of soft drinks to help consumers make healthier choices. In fact, the British Soft Drinks Association reports that low/no calorie soft drinks accounted for 68.6% of sales in the market in 2020. 

At the same time, we’ve seen a growing trend of health-conscious consumers showing an interest in lower sugar or lower calorie drink formats. We have seen drinks companies start to react to these changing consumer demands by launching new products, but the HFSS restrictions this year will cause widespread changes in our industry we’ve not seen before. 

Brands are now faced with a crossroad ahead of restrictions coming in on the 1st October this year: transform their business to provide healthier alternatives for consumers, or face barriers in how they promote and sell their products.

At SBF GB&I, our ‘Growing for Good’ vision means we have always been committed to having a positive impact on the lives of our consumers, providing them with a choice of great tasting drinks and enabling them to lead more active, healthier lifestyles. We started our reformulation journey back in 2013, before HFSS legislation was even announced which means today, we can proudly say that all our favourite soft drink brands like Ribena, Lucozade and Orangina are already non-HFSS. 

But, how did we get here? 

For a start, we began by seeking to understand what consumers look for when they purchase soft drinks. Research showed us that half of consumers were actively looking for brands with less sugar. We also discovered that sugar was the number one reason consumers wouldn’t buy a soft drink at that time.  

Based on these findings, we saw an opportunity to capitalise on this lower sugar trend, whilst also doing right by our consumers by reducing our added sugar content to help them lead healthier lives.      

We are fortunate that with iconic British brands such as Lucozade and Ribena, we have a strong relationship with our consumers who have enjoyed our drinks from as early as 1927. But with this comes a responsibility, so it was important that we reformulated in a way that didn’t compromise on taste and meant we were still providing the same trusted drinks that they know and love. This involved extensive tests and trials to make sure our drinks stayed as close to their classic flavourings as possible. 

The first step on our reformulation journey was in 2013, when we decided to take the pivotal decision to remove 1,000 tonnes of sugar and 4 billion calories from Lucozade and Ribena. 

The next milestone in our journey was the announcement of our comprehensive reformulation programme in 2016. It was at this moment that we outlined our ambition to remove more than half of Lucozade and Ribena’s added sugar content, with the overall aim to inspire UK consumers to lead healthier, more active lives. This was bold move at the time and the changes didn’t come without criticism, but setting out this clear path has led us to the strong position we are in today ahead of industry restrictions coming into effect on 1 October.  

Since 2016 we have invested £13 million into the reformulation of our drinks and reduced over 25,000 tonnes of sugar from our products and 98 billion calories from our consumers’ diets. The progress that we have made has set us apart from our competitors - reducing sugar by more than twice the UK industry average.

Nikki Pegg headshot (1)

Whilst we can proudly say all our favourite soft drinks brands are already non-HFSS, our commitment to innovating for our consumers doesn’t end here. We are continuing to invest in new soft drinks that still have the same great taste but sit under the HFSS threshold. This was the case with the recent launch of Lucozade Alert, our new low- calorie stimulation drink, with Vitamin B3 to help reduce tiredness, that was developed at speed during the pandemic. 

We are extremely proud of the work we have done so far at SBF GB&I, but we recognise we can go even further and will continue to set ourselves ambitious targets. We believe soft drinks have a place in a balanced diet and we share the Government’s ambition to encourage healthier lifestyles to tackle obesity rates in the UK. 

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