Associate feature: Driving the public health agenda in a post-COVID landscape
Coca-Cola European Partners has been an integral part of the Scottish community for more than 100 years, and we’re proud of the contribution we’ve made to the local economy.
Our factory in East Kilbride makes some of the world’s most recognised and loved soft drinks enjoyed by millions. We want people to be able to enjoy our brands knowing that they have a choice of sugar or non-sugar sweetened drinks in portion sizes which suit their lifestyle.
The last few months have been challenging and like all businesses we have had to adapt the way we work. Throughout this, our priority has been keeping our employees here in Scotland safe, ensuring those with isolation requirements or parents having to home school were supported.
COVID has tested how we all think about the health of the nation and the possible association of obesity to the worst outcomes of that virus. While the cause of obesity is complex with genetics, sedentary lifestyles, food availability and poor diet all contributing, we are determined to play our part in making a positive impact on the country’s public health.
Government statistics show that no other category has done more to reduce sugar in their products than soft drinks. Retail data shows a decrease of 24 per cent in sugar from soft drinks over five years.
As a major player in the sector, we have recognised and acted to meet our responsibilities, helping the government’s public health agenda and offering our consumer’s choice. It is a journey we embarked on in 1983 when Diet Coke was first launched in Scotland and we have accelerated that change in recent years.
Since 2010, we’ve launched 83 new drinks with low or no sugar, meaning all our carbonated drinks brands now have a low or no sugar alternative. These options already make up two-thirds of all our sales. We have also taken out a total of 45,000 tonnes of sugar from our drinks by reformulating 42 of our established products, reducing our total sugar use by 30 per cent.
In Scotland, between 2014 and 2019, the volume of regular take-home soft drinks purchased reduced by 13 per cent, whilst the volume of low or no sugar take-home soft drinks purchased increased by 18 per cent. Together Diet Coke and Coca-Cola zero sugar generate more sales than Coca-Cola Original Taste, demonstrating our strategy is delivering a choice which consumers welcome.
Although the introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy accelerated our efforts, our changes have been driven by consumers looking for more variety and lighter alternatives as many of them become more conscious of what they consume.
Beyond offering consumers choice, we now focus our marketing activities on our low or no sugar products and ensure that all our marketing is created for an audience of age 16 or over, helping shoppers to make more informed choices. To further help that purchasing decision our products display the traffic light style, front of pack labelling. We also expanded our range of portion sizes, again to help consumers make the choices that are best for them.
Despite our remarkable sugar reduction, obesity levels have stagnated at a high plateau, and this complex problem requires creative, evidence-led solutions. It is clear that simplistic, discriminatory policies focused on soft drinks is not the answer. We will continue to be a leader, supporting positive change and encouraging the adoption of low and zero-sugar drinks, but more must be done.
Our factory in East Kilbride has been and will continue to provide Scotland with our range of great tasting drinks, and our colleagues across the country will work with retailers to provide shoppers with the drinks they enjoy, with emphasis on low sugar options. Health will remain at the forefront of our operations, and we remain committed to offering a refreshing drink for everyone, whatever the occasion.
Jim Fox is Head of Public Affairs, Coca-Cola European Partners
This article was sponsored by Coca-Cola
Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe