Speaking at the annual British Soft Drinks Association (BDSA) industry lunch today (15 October), Harding warned that previous successes are no guarantee for future prosperity, citing McDonald’s ongoing store closures in the US amid falling sales as an example.
“[McDonald’s] offers us a lesson that we have to adapt, change and we have to meet the modern demands of consumers, retailers, society and regulators to produce a more healthy portfolio and agenda for the future while preserving the right of consumers to make their own choices,” he said.
Harding claimed that the soft drinks industry had faced “constant scrutiny” this year over its product formulations and marketing practices despite its progress, which is “largely unreported”.
“The majority of soft drinks sold are low or no calorie, which shows that the industry is adapting and developing. There have also been more responsible marketing programmes too, which encourage consumers to have soft drinks as a treat,” he explained.
Sugary drinks have been making the headlines regularly over the past year, with Jamie Oliver calling for an implementation of a “sugar tax” – something that the Government rejected earlier this month.
Groups such as The British Heart Foundation have also called for the Government to ban the ‘aggressive’ advertising of unhealthy food high in salt, fat and sugar before the 9pm watershed.
Harding, however, believes that the current debate around sugar is “missing the point” and that there should be of a focus on improving physical activity rates.
He explained: “It’s simple – it’s about calories going in, and calories going out. Research by Cambridge University shows that just one fifth of 11 to 15-year-olds do the minimum amount of exercise, while in February numerous royal colleges described exercise as the miracle cure and that it is far too often overlooked by doctors. As a result, physical activity rates need to increase, and the soft drinks industry can do more to help with that transition.”
To achieve this, the BSDA is calling on other sectors in the food and drink industry to “play their part” and “work constructively together”.
“We are currently in discussions with the Government and the wider food industry to see what we can do to tackle the obesity crisis,” Harding concluded.
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