Drink anyone? Oppo on the Sugar Tax?

 Jamie Oliver with sugar bus.

Drink anyone?

Water? Great, I’m gasping. Orange juice? Definitely, my throat’s been tickling all day. Tea? Of course, I’m British.

But what if you wanted a fizzy drink? In March, George Osborne announced a new levy on the soft drinks industry. Dubbed ‘the sugar tax’ and coming into force in 2018, sugar-sweetened drinks (excluding fruit juices and milk-based drinks) with more than 5g and 8g of sugar per 100 millilitres, will be levied at 18p and 24p per litre, respectively.

Campaigners have hailed the new levy a success. These are people like Jamie Oliver and NHS Chief Simon Stevens. But why? Just look at the stats, you’ll be shocked. 1 in 5 children now leave primary school obese and there are 2.5 million Brits suffering with type 2 diabetes (90% of whom are overweight or obese). This is not to mention that sugar content in some soft drinks is inordinately high. Take a 330ml can of Coke. It has 35g of sugar. The recommended daily intake for 11+ children is 30g. I bet you’ve just put that can down.

But is this new levy the right way forward?

I think that most of us agree that excessive consumption of sugary drinks is contributing to the rise in obesity. But will this levy reduce consumption? In Mexico, a similar 10% tax resulted in a 12% reduction in sales over 12 months. The question is whether or not a similar effect will be seen in the UK. Time will tell. 

Does this also go beyond the role of the state? This tax almost suggests that sugar is now in the same league as alcohol and tobacco. Now whether it is or isn’t is a blog post (or three) in itself, but what is clear is that the cost of obesity for the NHS is huge (£5.1 billion per year) and rising.

But regardless, is taxing to disincentivize the purchase of unhealthy products tackling the problem from the wrong end. What about incentivising the purchase of healthier alternatives? Surely this would be better.

What about manufacturers?

Manufacturers profit from the products they sell. Now most manufacturers argue that they merely offer a choice to consumers. However, if their products are having a negative effect on the health of the nation, then they clearly aren’t meeting customer needs. Take Unilever. They recently announced that they would be capping their single-serve ice creams at 250 calories. Brilliant. Was that multiple hours in the kitchen? Hundreds of recipe refinements? One eureka moment? Sadly not. They’ve just introduced smaller packaging. So that’s selling less, for the same price, and all under the guise of ‘improving the health of the nation’.

Charlie spent months creating Oppo. It’s not easy creating an indulgent, yet healthy product … but it is possible. Manufacturers need to create products which allow customers to indulge without negatively affecting their health. Perhaps reduced sales from state-imposed levies will force them to do this. Until then … there’s always Oppo.