Back to school – but not for Ribena as retailer rings sugary drink recess

By Lauren Bandy

- Last updated on GMT

Lunchbox sugary juices like Ribena have been banned by major UK retailer Tesco, but sales of functional juices and RTD teas are up
Lunchbox sugary juices like Ribena have been banned by major UK retailer Tesco, but sales of functional juices and RTD teas are up

Related tags: Soft drinks, Soft drink, Tesco

Return to school can be an abundant time for food and drink makers, but stakeholder actions are rupturing market safeholds as health concerns rise, says Euromonitor analyst Lauren Bandy in this guest article.

It’s that time of the year again when parents take to the high street, kids in tow, to stock up on school essentials and rack their brains for creative food ideas for their children’s lunchboxes.

This year however, Suntory-owned blackcurrant drink Ribena isn’t likely to feature so heavily around the school canteen tables as leading UK retailer Tesco has announced that lunchbox-sized sugar-sweetened drinks will be dropped from its shelves; bad news then for Ribena, Capri-Sun and Rubicon, which all produce 200 ml cartons and pouches designed exactly for that purpose.

Cynics would argue these brands are victims of Tesco’s strategy to reduce the number of brands on its shelves by 30%, and that the core decision to delist these products has nothing to do with childhood obesity.

Others would argue that this is a great demonstration of how business strategy and corporate public health policy can be married; a win-win situation. Tesco represents around a fifth of retail value grocery sales, which is significant, but for this decision to have any true public health impact, other retailers are going to need to follow suit.

Could fizzy drinks be next in line?

The average UK consumer purchases 93 g of sugar from packaged food and soft drinks a day, 21 g of this from soft drinks alone and the majority coming from carbonates and juice.

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The recommended intake, which has recently been revised by the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), is 30 g for an adult and 24 g for a child aged 7-10 years. Consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks has been associated with an increased risk of becoming overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes and dental caries, and media reports surrounding the “hidden sugar”​ in food and beverage products have come thick and fast.

It is yet to be seen whether there will be wider cuts by Tesco to other soft drink categories, or if this will remain specific only to children’s products. While Ribena isn’t just consumed by children, products such as Coca-Cola aren’t just consumed by adults – and contain more sugar both on a per 100 ml basis and per serving basis. 

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Healthy alternatives take advantage

Despite the sugar issue, it’s far from doom and gloom for the UK soft drink industry; volume consumption has increased by 300 million litres in five years to reach 8.74 billion litres in 2015. While all categories – barring juice and concentrates – have seen volume growth since 2009, RTD tea and functional bottled water are the two stand-out products in terms of positive growth thanks to consumers looking for healthier alternatives.

Coconut water is one of the clear winners, with sales of Vita Coco doubling from 8.5 million litres in 2013 to 17.2 million litres in 2014 and the brand’s launch of kid’s cartons could tempt parents looking for healthier alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages.

When it comes to its commitments around obesity, Tesco isn’t just focussing on product choice but also aims to reduce the sugar content of its private label soft drinks by 5% year-on-year, and follows in the footsteps of other manufacturers at reformulating its products.

If all soft drink manufacturers were to reduce the amount of sugar in their products by 10%, then the UK could potentially reduce its sugar consumption by 5,000 tonnes a year.

This is of course easier said than done but is arguably much more effective than removing a handful of brands from the shelves of a single supermarket chain.

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