Only a collaborative, science-based approach can support the transition to healthier sustainable diets

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Five months have now passed since the European Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy was published, and nutrition policy has never been more relevant. Obesity remains a complex, systemic, and multi-factorial problem, with over 50% of the EU’s adult population overweight in 2014[1], and 30% of the world’s population currently classed as overweight or obese[2].

The EU is right to want to tackle obesity, but not all the proposed actions in the Farm to Fork Strategy would deliver the same benefits[3]. No single policy measure acting in isolation is likely to deliver significant changes in obesity rates[4]. That’s why we believe that the suggested measures must be part of a holistic approach towards nutrition policy, as well as being supported by sound scientific evidence.

A rational approach to nutrition

Because the challenge is enormous and the issue is complex, all stakeholders have a role to play in the fight against obesity. At Suntory Beverage and Food Europe (SBFE) we are determined to play our part.

Our business and our products are positioned to contribute to having a positive impact on the lives of our consumers, providing them with a responsible choice of great-tasting drinks and inspiring them to lead more active lifestyles.

We use deep consumer insights to identify future trends, and these help ensure that the changes we make to our drinks, as well as the new products we create will resonate with consumers leading to greater adoption of healthier drinks that still have a great signature taste.

Taking action on portion size and product reformulations was identified by the McKinsey Global Institute as the most efficient means to combat overweight and obesity[5]. SBFE has already committed to the following healthier choices measures:

  • We pledge to reduce the sugar content of our products by at least 35% by 2025. We have already voluntarily reduced the sugar content of our drinks by 22% since 2015. In the last five years, we have reformulated 50% of our European drinks’ portfolio – a total of 287 different drinks. For our Schweppes range, we reduced added sugars by 42.2% by replacing them with sucralose and acesulfame.
  • Many of our leading brands are sold in small containers, enabling better portion control. We aim to double the sales of drinks with lower sugar content by innovating to produce new lower-calorie drinks. For instance, we have recently introduced new organic drinks called “Les Eaux de Thé” under the May Tea brand. Those have a sugar content 70% lower than the average beverage on the market.

Reformulation is a slow process

Reformulation requires significant investment in research and development and takes considerable time. Our company, in its quest to produce healthier and tastier drinks, pursues a number of different strategies. We progressively reduce the sugar content of our drinks over a long period of time, or we modify a drink’s recipe by replacing sugar with alternative non-caloric sweeteners.

We also seek out emerging ingredients and technologies that will allow us to reformulate with natural sweeteners while maintaining the same taste profile. In addition to the time-consuming nature of these research and development processes, we must also allow for the adaptation of consumers’ tastes.

The blunt introduction of maximum nutrient levels in food products, as suggested in the Farm to Fork Strategy, would not be compatible with this incremental and lengthy process. We therefore believe that other policy measures must exist to support product reformulations.

A dialogue between stakeholders and the scientific community is crucial if we are to understand the impact of any new or proposed policy measures, as well as in the design of additional measures moving forward.

Furthermore, we hope that European institutions will support and encourage the efforts undertaken by companies to reformulate their products, place low-calorie alternatives on the market, and increase consumer acceptance of newly reformulated products.

Labelling could effectively support product reformulations

Labelling plays an important role in shaping market demand, and carefully considered front-of-pack (FOP) labelling could contribute to increasing consumers’ acceptance of reformulated products. We believe that consumers should have access to clear and consistent nutritional information.

There is straightforward nutritional labelling on all our drinks, and FOP calorie labels are voluntarily displayed on several of our brand formats. However, the multiplicity of FOP-labelling schemes in the EU has complicated the free circulation of products across country borders. We therefore welcome the Commission’s ambition to harmonise nutritional FOP labelling.

To ensure that the new FOP labelling scheme will help consumers make more positive dietary choices, we strongly encourage the Commission to propose a scheme that relies on a clear science-based and non-discriminatory algorithm, one that acknowledges companies’ serious reformulation efforts to reduce the sugar and calorie content of products.

We also believe that a European front-of-pack labelling scheme will deliver better on expectations if it is embedded within a comprehensive approach that includes educational campaigns to help people make healthier product choices.​

The implementation of the Farm to Fork strategy will be essential to enable the industry to adapt and grow sustainably, supporting the shift to an ever more sustainable food system.

We are ready to play our part, increase our efforts, and share our experiences. We believe that only a science-based and collaborative approach can turn policy measures into true drivers for change.

[1] Eurostat, Overweight and obesity – BMI statistics

[2] Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013

[3]  McKinsey Global Institute, McKinsey study ‘Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis’, 2014

[4] McKinsey Global Institute, McKinsey study ‘Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis’, 2014

[5] Ibid.

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