Looking ahead: Europe’s soft drinks industry sets out 3 key ambitions for 2024-2029

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: getty/brainajackson
Pic: getty/brainajackson

Related tags European union

UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe, the Brussels-based trade association representing the non-alcoholic beverage sector, has published its manifesto with key ambitions and policy priorities for the 2024-2029 EU political term.

The EU boasts more than 500 soft drinks production facilities – which produce the vast majority of drinks consumed in the EU - with the sector supporting more than 1.8m jobs throughout its value chain.

The past legislative term (2019-2024) has been marked by key legislative projects: The EU Green Deal, especially two of its key building blocks – the EU Circular Economy Action Plan and the EU Farm-to-Fork Strategy – which are aimed at creating long term changes to production and consumption.

Now, UNESDA is setting out its 'wish-list' for the legislative term ahead: identifying an ‘urgent need to build the necessary enablers to support this massive transformation’ from the above legislation.

And the industry also faces the wider global context of geopolitical tensions, inflationary pressures and supply chain challenges.

“While each legislative term brings changes, challenges and opportunities, this term may be the time to reflect on what has been achieved and the impact of existing measures, to assess methodologically what remains to be done, and to focus on targeted actions,” summarizes the manifesto.

The European Parliament – which acts as a co-legislator for the European Union – is made up of directly elected Members of the European Parliament (MEP). Voters will elect their MEPs​ in June 2024.

Ambition 1: 'A more sustainable and competitive soft drinks sector'

UNESDA wants to support a transition to a more sustainable and healthier food system: but highlights this needs to be a smooth transition that does not impact on the competitiveness of businesses. To that end it wants the European Parliament to:

  1. Establish a streamlined legislative approach, providing regulatory certainty with workable timescales, ensuring new legislation is science-based, and undertaking appropriate and thorough impact assessments;
  2. Secure a strong single market at the heart of EU policy, with uniform implementation of EU food and environmental legislation;
  3. Promote fairness across the food supply chain to ensure everyone plays their part and there is no discrimination against any specific food, drink or ingredient.

Ambition 2: 'Helping Europeans to lead healthier lifestyles'

UNESDA champions the voluntary initiatives made and achieved over recent years: It has pledged to reduce average sugars in soft drinks by a further 10% between 2019 and 2025 in the EU-27/

This will represent a 33% overall reduction in average added sugars since 2000.

In fact, 'significant investments' in reformulation and new product development now means that no- and low-calorie versions now represent over 30 % of soft drinks sales across Europe (and over 40% in several markets). 

Other ways the sector is supporting healthier lifestyles is by promoting responsible marketing and advertising practices to children under 13 and implementing stringent school policies. 

Looking forward, UNESDA calls on policymakers to:

  1. Ensure up-to-date and reliable pan-European monitoring of food and drink consumption intakes and patterns to better understand what interventions can be effective;
  2. Develop evidence-based policies that do not discriminate against ingredients approved as safe for use by health authorities, and which enable food innovation;
  3. Support science-based, harmonised and non-discriminatory labelling policies to help consumers make informed choices.

Ambition 3: 'Driving environmental sustainability throughout our value chain'

How can the sector improve sustainability? Actions across the value chain are working to reduce the carbon footprint, protect water resources, improve energy efficiency and promote packaging circularity. 

One strength of the European market, according to UNESDA, is that production plants are also generally sited close to the markets which they serve, hence limiting greenhouse gas emissions linked to energy and transport.

With packaging - an area under the spotlight from the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive​ - UNESDA highlights goals for the next five to 10 years. It wants all packaging to be recyclable by 2025, with an average minimum of 50% recycled content in PET bottles (up to 100% in 2030 'if technically and economically feasible'), and 90% collection of all packaging by 2030.

It is a strong supporter of Deposit Return Schemes: with 16 European countries now using a scheme (Ireland being the latest to introduce a DRS​) and more in place for introduction. In 2021, the average collection rate via such schemes was 90%, says the association.

To help these environmentally focused actions, UNESDA wants to see the European Parliament:

  1. Ensure well-designed collection schemes and a sufficient supply of food-grade feedstock for recycling to enable closed-loop recycling, when appropriate;
  2. Incentivise investments in carbon emission reduction (renewable energy, increased access to low-carbon energy, collection and recycling infrastructure);
  3. Put water high on the political agenda and encourage investments in infrastructure promoting the conservation and restoration of water resources and providing fair and equitable access to water for citizens and businesses.

Related topics Regulation & safety

Related news