How The European Soft Drinks Industry Will Reduce
Added Sugars By 10% By 2020

  By: Sigrid Ligné, director general, UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe

The soft drinks industry has been on an added sugars reduction journey since the 1970s when the first no and low-calorie drinks were introduced. It already reduced calories by 12% from 2000-2015 but in February last year it committed to triple the scale and pace of sugar reduction with a further 10% cut by 2020. So what’s driving this?


Well, the latest sugar reduction announcements were driven by a number of factors. Firstly reducing added sugars seeks to address changing consumer preferences.  Our customers are more conscious than ever about sugar and calories and we support the views of the world’s leading health authorities that people should control their added sugars intake – and that includes sugar from soft drinks.  In soft drinks, when you reduce added sugars you reduce calories and our sector is committed to playing its part in lowering overall calorie consumption in order to address overweight and obesity. 

Added sugars reduction also responds to the EU call for reformulation and sugar reduction across the food industry.  We support coordinated EU policies on reformulation and sugar reduction. UNESDA endorsed the EU Roadmap for Action on Food Product Improvement and was proud to be the first sector to respond to the EU Added Sugar Annex and its 10% sugar reduction target.  EU Health Commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis responded positively to our initiative and voiced the ambition that all sectors play their part.  We hope that others will follow our lead in order to generate critical mass and impact over 500 million consumers.

The EU’s partnership-based policy approach to reformulation and sugar reduction involves all stakeholders in driving a successful strategy and is most welcome.  It allows sufficient flexibility to reflect local situations and optimise the wide variety of tools in achieving the reduction goal.  This enables our industry to deliver speed and scale in reducing added sugars across the soft drinks portfolio. 

The ambitious target is being achieved through engaging the wide industry network across Europe. Our sector works with governments and stakeholders in many countries around Europe, signing local sugar and calorie reduction pledges and we are leveraging a combination of four key actions to deliver the 10% reduction: Firstly, we are reformulating existing products to reduce their sugar content.  This is an ongoing process and some of the brands that are on sale today contain 40% less sugar than they did a few years ago.

Secondly, we are innovating to introduce new products with no or reduced sugar.  Today, no and reduced sugar products represent 66% of all new product innovations.

Our third tool to reduce added sugars is by increasing the availability and range of smaller pack sizes.  This allows portion control and encourages moderation in consumption.  The availability of pack sizes smaller than 330ml has increased 150% since 2006 and there are now over 30 different small packs to choose from - including cans, bottles, PET and pouches.

The fourth element in our armoury is promotion.  The industry has increased investment behind the promotion of no and reduced sugar drinks in order to educate consumers and actively encourage choice towards those products with less sugar.  Advertising spend behind no and low drinks has doubled in many markets in recent years and this has borne fruit:  No and low calorie drinks now represent over 40% of total soft drinks sales in a number of European countries.

Importantly, the soft drinks industry is ensuring that it stays accountable and plans to monitor progress in added sugars reduction using independent, external researchers.  We will also share this data with stakeholders as soon as its available.

Last year’s commitment to the EU was not our first.  Way back in 2006 UNESDA made a series of far-reaching commitments to the then newly-formed EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.  We promised to not advertise our products to children under 12 right across the EU28 – and we don’t.  Not on TV, in print, on the internet or on social media.  At the same time UNESDA members also committed to not sell their products in primary schools right across the EU28 – and we don’t.  The latest third party audit found UNESDA to be over 95% compliant with both of these commitments – and we are working hard to deliver perfect compliance.