Thursday

18th Apr 2019

Stakeholder

Why we're taking sugary drinks out of EU schools

  • Cans of fizzy, sugary, soft drinks like these will no longer be on sale in EU secondary schools from the end of 2018.

At the start of this new school year, the European soft drinks industry announced that it would no longer offer sugary drinks for sale in secondary schools.

That will impact 50,000 secondary schools and some 40 million young people. Soft drinks have been completely out of primary schools for over ten years already - so why this latest move?

Read and decide

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Firstly, it builds on more than a decade of responsible policies towards schools and children. The industry recognises that the school environment requires special care and supports commercial-free classrooms.

It has also encouraged dialogue between schools and parents as to what drinks should be made available to secondary school pupils.

Branded vending machines were taken out of EU secondary schools back in 2006 and UNESDA (Union of European Beverages Association) members also made sure that these unbranded machines offered a full range of drinks – including water, juice and no/low sugar drinks.

As a result sales of sugary drinks in schools have been steadily falling. They represented 54 percent of sales in 2006, down to 39 percent of sales in 2015 – and now by the end of 2018 sugary drinks will be zero percent of sales in secondary schools.

We believe that water should be the foremost drink in schools. The most recent research from PwC confirms that 86 percent of secondary schools offer free drinking water while 93 percent sell bottled drinking water.

Acting responsibly towards children

Acting responsibly towards children also covers our advertising and marketing practices.

UNESDA members haven't advertised to children under 12 since 2006. Not on TV, nor in print, on radio, online, on social media or on their own company websites.

We audit our compliance with each of our commitments using independent experts PriceWaterhouseCoopers – and we share the results with the European Commission and our EU Platform colleagues.

We pride ourselves on achieving high levels of compliance – proving that we actually do what we say we will do. However, there is always room for improvement and we are not complacent.

We continue to work with our customers and distributors to uphold these commitments.

Reducing sugar for over 40 years

This latest action to remove sugary drinks from secondary schools takes place against a background of long-term sugar reduction in soft drinks.

The industry has been reducing calories and sugar in its products since the 1970s when the first no/low calorie drinks were introduced. From 2000 to 2015 we reduced calories by 12 percent and earlier this year we pledged to reduce added sugar by a further 10 percent on average by 2020 – tripling the speed and pace of our sugar-reduction efforts.

By offering a wide range of packaging sizes and product options – both with and without sugar – we believe we are allowing people to choose what they drink and when.

Research by the consultancy firm McKinsey demonstrates that reformulation and portion control are the two most effective ways of reducing calories in the diet. We are on board with both of these.

Many soft drinks have been reformulated to contain less sugar and today over half of the new products introduced are in the no and low-calorie category. Meanwhile the range of smaller pack sizes has also expanded enormously. There are now over 30 different packaging formats less than 330ml (a standard can) ranging from PET and glass bottles to cans and pouches.

And we also understand that on-pack information is crucial to helping people make informed decisions about what they buy for themselves and their families. UNESDA members have carried clear, on-pack information for over ten years – way before regulatory requirements – and carry clear calorie and ingredient information per pack and per 100ml.

Making it happen

We have set a deadline for end of 2018 for full implementation of this secondary school's new commitment. We will achieve this by directing all UNESDA member salesforces to ensure that whenever soft drinks are provided directly to secondary schools, they are made available and in agreement with school authorities and parents, only as a complement to drinking water and in no and low calorie versions.

We will also encourage wholesalers and third parties to support our policy and work with organisations operating in secondary schools to adopt our approach. And of course, we will monitor our compliance using independent third party auditors, and share the results.

So watch this space.

Sigrid Ligne is the director general of UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe.

Disclaimer: This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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