The Union of European Soft Drinks Associations (Unesda) has said it will ‘voluntarily cease’ the sale of soft drinks containing added sugars to secondary schools in the European Union (EU).
The move extends Unesda’s previous commitment not to sell any beverages in European primary schools or advertise any products to children under the age of 12, which has been in place for over ten years.
From the end of next year, member companies will only supply secondary schools with low- and no-calorie soft drinks, with Unesda saying that “water must remain the foremost drink available for schoolchildren”. The association estimates that the voluntary effort will reach more than 50,000 secondary schools and over 40 million young people across the EU.
Unesda president Stanislas de Gramont, the CEO of Suntory Beverage and Food Europe, said: “As an industry we are firmly committed to responsibly serving consumers of all ages across Europe, and are pleased to announce we will be voluntarily removing sales of drinks containing added sugars from all schools across the European Union.
“This new initiative further strengthens a successful existing policy which has been comprehensively implemented throughout primary schools over the last decade and will ensure our industry is not providing drinks containing added sugars to young people during the school day.”
It is the latest effort from Europe’s soft drink industry, and from Unesda in particular, to reduce the amount of sugar available to consumers. In February, it accelerated its sugar reduction plans with a target to remove a further 10% of sugar from its products by 2020.
Compliance with the new commitment will be monitored by independent auditors including PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Analysis: Do soft drink bans actually work?
This latest commitment from Unesda – traditionally not afraid of facing its failings head on – is a bold and significant step, not least because it will create a self-imposed ban for some of Europe’s biggest soft drink manufacturers in the face of increasing legislative pressure. It will limit the variety of sugary beverages that children in Europe are able to access in school but it won’t necessarily change their habits beyond the school gate, reigniting the argument over whether soft drinks bans are the most effective way to curb childhood obesity, or whether they even work.
Research from the US, where the relationship with sugar legislation is admittedly much more uneasy, found that soda bans in schools were only effective if children didn’t have access to alternative sugar-sweetened beverages. Unesda’s members include Red Bull, but not Monster; Coca-Cola, but not Dr Pepper Snapple. So it’ll be interesting to see how this move from Unesda plays out. There is major interest to ensure that non-Unesda members aren’t granted an automatic advantage in schools, and that European children don’t turn to energy drinks and sports drinks as a substitute like the American study suggested.
PepsiCo’s Cesar Melo said: “Children and adolescents are a special audience that needs particular attention and we are fully aware of our industry’s role in enabling young consumers to make healthy choices. We very much applaud that the commitment that our company made several years ago is today being embraced by the whole sector. As such, it will have a lasting positive effect on a great many people’s diets.
“It also perfectly fits in our Performance with Purpose vision, whereby we aim to deliver strong financial performance sustainably over time in a way that is responsive to the needs of society.”
And in a joint statement, Dan Sayre and Nikos Koumettis, presidents of The Coca-Cola Company’s business units in Europe, said: “Removing sales of added-sugar soft drinks from secondary schools across Europe is the latest significant step that our industry is taking to help people of all ages make informed and responsible beverage choices while creating healthy food environments for children and adolescents.
“Coca-Cola is pleased to have been actively supporting this journey over the last decade by first removing all beverages from primary schools and today further extending that commitment, and is proud to be part of our industry’s wider effort to reduce added sugars by 10% across our portfolio by 2020.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019