Gelatine confectionery

Health campaigners have launched a new front in the war on sugar after calling for the government to extend the soft drinks levy to cover chocolate and sweets.

The move, put forward by lobby group Action on Sugar, said it was wrong for confectionery to escape a tax because it was one of the main contributors to sugar intake and had “little or no” nutritional value.

It follows the admission by Public Health England that products such as chocolate were unlikely to meet voluntary reformulation targets to slash 20% of sugar through reformulation and will instead have to rely on the more controversial method of reduced portion sizes.

Action on Sugar called for the soft drinks levy, which will come into force in April 2018, should also be made mandatory for all confectionery, with a minimum rate of 20% of the cost.

It said the levy should include all products sold in coffee shops and restaurants as well as traditional retail outlets, with PHE figures showing the average calories per portion in a chocolate bar in the out-of-home sector is 274kcal, nearly 100kcals more than the average manufacturer’s product.

Chocolate and sugar confectionery contributes 9% total sugar to the diets of children (four to 10-year-olds) and 11% in teenagers (11 to 18 years) according to government figures. Action on Sugar said it was a huge contributor to tooth decay.

“The levy should be structured by the HM Treasury as per the soft drinks industry levy, whereby it is aimed at manufacturers to encourage them to reduce sugar in their overall product ranges,” said Action on Sugar chairman Professor Graham MacGregor. “Any revenue raised should go towards improving health in the UK.”

The FDF has long warned that campaigners would not rest at the soft drinks levy and come after other sectors pinpointed as high contributors to sugar intake. It has also warned of the economic impact of further taxes. The Labour Party has suggested it would look to extend the tax but FDF director general Ian Wright told The Grocer last month it could lead to companies like Nestlé, Mondelez and Ferrero cutting their investment in UK jobs.

However, the confectionery tax call comes after manufacturers warned they were in danger of failing to hit voluntary reductions in sugar under the Childhood Obesity Plan.

In March, PHE said products such as chocolate bars would have to rely on shrinking to meet targets of a 20% reduction in sugar content by 2020.

Under the proposed voluntary cap, it announced the calories in a chocolate bar would have to duck under 200kcal, based on a sales-weighted average across a company’s products, though PHE is allowing a maximum of 250kcal to remain, the same as the existing self-imposed limit already in place from manufacturers.

An FDF spokesman said: “Confectionery is one of nine categories covered by the PHE sugars reduction programme, meaning manufacturers are already working with government to voluntarily reformulate their products.

“We believe it is wrong in principle to single out individual nutrients or product categories for punitive treatment and therefore oppose all additional food taxes including the soft drinks industry levy. There is no evidence that the levy will make any lasting or significant difference to obesity.”