Welcome to the Wholesale Manager Soft Drinks feature. Talking to Gavin Partington, BSDA Director General, the shift to ‘low’ and ‘no’ that we have seen over the years in such food categories as milk is now being mirrored in soft drinks. There has been a significant shift toward low and no calorie drinks over recent years, which reflects the enormous effort by soft drinks producers to promote calorie reduction.

drinksThe figures for soft drinks in the UK are impressive. According to the BSDA 2015 UK Soft Drinks Report, the UK soft drinks industry was worth £15.7 billion in 2014, more than the total economies of 80  or so countries. Some 14.8 billion litres of soft drinks were consumed in the UK: consumption of bottled water was up 9.3% and value sales up over 10%. The volume of still flavoured water increased by 16.4% to over 250 million litres. And confirming the point we came in with about the ‘move to the light,’ 49% of carbonates sold in 2014 were low and no calorie, and nearly three quarters (74%) of all dilutables sold are low or no calorie.

Driven by a determination to respond to consumer needs and step up to public health challenges, soft drinks companies have set themselves some ambitious targets including reducing the calorie content of existing products. Gavin Partington describes this as ‘no mean feat.’ In his words, as we have seen in the past the reformulation of popular food and drink brands does not always sit well with the consumer so any variation needs their acceptance, too.  But this industry has a track record of innovation and soft drinks companies have relished taking on this challenge; the last two years have seen a significant number of these products on the market and also many reformulated own label drinks, whose suppliers Gavin points out include BSDA members.

“Where reformulation has not been a practical option, some companies have decided to remove some products containing added sugar from their ranges, whilst many others have chosen to vastly increase the availability of smaller pack sizes.

“However, this does not mean that reformulation has stifled innovation. Current EU legislation has limited the reformulation options open to manufacturers so further calorie reduction is also being driven by entirely new products entering the market like Trop50 and more recently Coke Life.”

Of course soft drinks manufacturers have been reformulating and creating new products for many years now, Gavin concedes. “But what is different now is the focus on encouraging consumers to choose drinks containing low or no calories. The UK’s leading soft drinks companies have increased their collective advertising spend on these drinks by nearly 50% in the last year alone.

“The ambitious voluntary targets manufacturers set themselves are working. Figures released in May 2015 by Kantar Worldpanel confirm that calories across the soft drinks category are down 7.3% and sugar has been reduced by 8.3% since April 2012. It’s worth remembering of course that soft drinks make up just 3% of calories in the average UK diet.”

The latest sales figures quoted above from the BDSA 2015 Soft Drinks report also underscore the message from the Kantar data on changing patterns of consumer consumption.

But despite the success of some categories, Gavin Partington points out that overall soft drinks consumption was down slightly by 0.5% in 2014. “That partly reflects the fall in sales of fruit juice down 9.5% – an unfortunate by-product of the misguided campaign on sugar – which sadly means some consumers have reduced the role of fruit juice in their 5 a day. We as an industry will be stepping up our work to address this issue in 2015.

“Consumer needs are clearly changing, and as an industry we are responding. By providing an ever wider range of products the soft drinks industry plays a positive role in encouraging and helping consumers make the right choice for their lifestyle.”

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