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20 February, 2020 - 23:07 By Tony Quested

Treatt winning fight against sugar-related obesity and disease

East of England company Treatt plc is in the front line of a so far successful battle to slash sugar content in drink products in an accelerating fight against obesity and ill health.

The Bury St Edmunds company is partnering with some of the world’s biggest beverage producers in over 90 countries around the world.

Researchers, including those from Cambridge University, have just reported that the  Government’s Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL), introduced in April 2018 to help combat childhood obesity and related conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, has resulted in soft drinks manufacturers in the UK lowering the sugar levels in their drinks, researchers have found.

Treatt plc has been instrumental in the health drive, as CEO Daemonn Reeve explained to Business Weekly.

He said: “The health and wellbeing movement has become all-encompassing as consumers, from every demographic the world over, move away from this once staple ingredient.

“Reducing sugar levels in everything from colas, energy drinks and cordials to dairy shakes and tonic waters has never been a higher priority for beverage brands and their suppliers across the globe. 

“That said, it’s no small ask. Sugar does so much more to a drink than simply make it sweet. 

“When you take it away, you’re changing the whole make up of a beverage – which is not what consumers want. Health-savvy shoppers are after drinks that still deliver a consistently great flavour experience, but without the calories or artificial ingredients.

“That’s where we come in. We give our customers the ultimate choice when it comes to developing solutions that reduce sugar in a number of compositions and beverage applications.

“Our 100 per cent natural solutions impart a fresh and natural sweetness without adding any calories, sugar or colour. The breadth of our portfolio means we’re best placed to provide off the shelf products, as well as bespoke solutions, tailored to a customer’s specific need.”

The Soft Drinks Industry Levy applies to drinks containing more than 5g of sugar per 100ml, but not to fruit juice, milk-based drinks, alcoholic drinks, or drinks from companies with sales of less than 1m litres per year. 

The changes in drink formulation brought about by the SDIL have been much greater than achieved by voluntary industry initiatives. The researchers found that very few eligible drinks, just 15 per cent, were still liable for the levy by February 2019. Prior to the announcement of the levy, 52 per cent of eligible drinks were liable for the tax.

The researchers assessed a dataset of soft drinks available in UK supermarkets from September 2015-February 2019. Prior to the announcement of the SDIL, there was already a slight downward trend in the sugar content of drinks. 

After the announcement of the SDIL, the percentage of drinks liable for the levy began to reduce faster than the background trend.

Supermarkets had been reducing the sugar content of their own brand drinks before the SDIL was announced, so the changes were less dramatic than for branded drinks when assessed separately.

Price analysis showed that, for branded drinks, around half of the levy was passed onto consumers in higher prices of drinks in the higher levy category after the introduction of the SDIL, while lower levy drinks reduced in price.

Professor Martin White of the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, chief investigator for the SDIL evaluation, said: “These are the first results from our independent evaluation of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy and focus on the reformulation efforts of soft drinks companies. 

“The findings suggest that the levy has been effective in prompting industry reformulation to reduce sugar content of many soft drinks. However, the marketing strategies of soft drinks manufacturers compared to supermarkets vary considerably, with differences in sugar content, sizes and prices of drinks as a result of the levy. 

“Further research is looking at how these changes affect purchases and consumption of soft drinks and potential health impacts among the public, as well as impacts on businesses and the economy. These will be reported over the next year as they become available.”

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