Sugar is a big issue. A report by the Commons Health Select committee released in November last year recommended the Government tackle the UK’s obesity crisis by banning the advertising of junk food during family TV shows and by introducing a 20% tax on sugary drinks and sweets.
While a sugar tax is not in Prime Minister David Cameron’s current plans, he has not ruled it out completely. The debate has forced the food and drink industry and big brands to shout louder about what they are doing.
New product innovations
Coca-Cola launched Coke Life in August 2014 to offer a lower calorie variant for more health conscious consumers. It has a third fewer calories and sugar than Coca-Cola and is sweetened using a blend of sugar and naturally sourced sweetener stevia. However, it has struggled with falling sales since the initial launch.
As a result, the brand announced earlier this week that it has reduced the sugar content of Coke Life even further. It will now contain 45% less sugar and calories than the regular full sugar variant.
The new version of Coke Life, which will be available in store from April onwards, includes a greater level of stevia plant extract. A 330ml can of Coca-Cola Life will now contain 76 calories and 19 grams of sugar, and will be promoted as part of Coca-Cola’s new “Taste The Feeling” campaign.
At the unveiling of the new campaign last week, Coca-Cola’s COO James Quincey touched on Coke Life’s performance, saying: “We know using stevia requires further developments and that more extracts of stevia are coming in future. We’re excited because we know it’s possible to innovate more on the formulas of this product or others going forward in the next five to 10 years.”
Coca-Cola is not the only brand to have placed its bets on product innovations. Innocent launched coconut water last year, as well as a new range of vegetable coldpress juices in a bid to “reach different aspects of the health and wellness space”.
Speaking about the new range of vegetable juices, the brand’s head of marketing for the UK Helen Pomphrey said the company is keen to react to changing consumer trends.
She told Marketing Week: “We are seeing people’s palates change over time. Consumers have been used to a sweet smoothie taste and they are becoming more accepting of something more savoury, but that‘s something which will develop further over time.”
While some launch new innovations, others go down the route of cutting calories. Britvic, for example, aims to reduce the amount of calories in its products by 20% by 2020. According to the brand’s CMO Matt Barwell, 60% of its current innovations are low or no sugar, which “feels like a good position to be in”.
The beverage company also launched a campaign earlier this month based around the joys of drinking water – in conjunction with Britvic products, of course.
Barwell explains: “People often say water tastes a bit dull, which is why we’re trying to encourage the nation to drink more water with Robinsons. The six-week campaign will feature a lot of sampling in people’s work places, so they can drink it around the water cooler.
We did this campaign on a smaller scale in Great Britain and Ireland last year and the results were phenomenal. We’ve learnt from that and built on it to drive it more fully this year.”
When it comes to the sugar debate, all three brands are increasingly eager to have their voices heard. Innocent’s Pomphrey believes the negative press around sugar and smoothies in particular has been confusing for consumers.
“It’s not particularly helpful when drinking a smoothie has been compared to eating three donuts, because the nutritional content of both are completely different.”
Helen Pomphrey, UK marketing director, Innocent
Barwell agrees that “calories and sugar are a complicated debate”. In his opinion, the real danger is when the debate is overly simplified.
He comments: “Single ingredients are demonised and politicians make knee jerk reactions for political gain rather than for the genuine solutions that we need in society. It’s frightening that not one country has reduced obesity, so to think a single action like sugar tax will do that is absolutely erroneous.”
Meanwhile, Coca-Cola’s GB marketing director Bobby Brittain added that if any legislation was to go through around sugar it should be applied to the whole industry instead of singling out individual “contributors”.
“We acknowledge that it’s a complex issue and we have a role to play. The more that can be done on a total national level, the better. There is a risk, however, of fragmentation of either legislation or decisions which are taken to single out individual ‘contributors’ to the situation. So it’s either everyone or no one,” he said.
All three brands agree, however, the consumer should remain at the heart of the debate.
Barwell concludes: “Fundamentally, we believe in choice, being able to offer consumers a range of choice, then educate them and be transparent. At the same time, you have to nudge people in the right direction. They have to be active. But there’s no point in having products on the shelves no one buys, and that people don’t like from a taste point of view.”