sugar soft drink

A year ago, The Grocer broke the news that Tesco planned to become the first UK retailer to commit to an open-ended year-on-year sugar reduction target of 5% in its soft drinks aisle.

As we reveal this week, it hasn’t so much hit the target as smashed it.

Soft drinks boss David Beardmore announced a 13% reduction in the 12 months to March, equivalent to the removal of 1,428 tonnes of sugar.

So as plans for a sugar levy took a step forward yesterday, via the Queen’s Speech, it’s worth looking at the contrast between regulation and what can be achieved by successful voluntary industry action.

Even if Tesco only hits the bare minimum 5% in the next two years of its open-ended commitment, it means the UK’s biggest retailer alone will have cut the amount of sugar in soft drinks by nearly a quarter by the time the sugar levy comes in.

That’s the removal of eight billion calories. And if Tesco continues at the current rate, it’ll be many more calories still.

As Ribenagate showed, this process has been far from a painless process for Tesco or the brands involved. Nevertheless, they have committed to a massive shift – one entirely led by industry, without a need for the Queen to go anywhere near the House of Commons lift.

It’s also a message to the government, which hasn’t even managed to release its obesity strategy yet, that the industry will always be able to achieve much more than the statute book when it comes to making products healthier.

Of course, such success stories don’t make for snappy headlines in the way a sugar tax does. As this week’s announcement from the US shows – where San Francisco has just become the first city to require health warnings to be plastered on billboards advertising sugar-laden fizzy drinks – the lure of eye-catching public health interventions is high.

Campaigners in the UK back similar measures and have also been calling for warnings on the front of pack.

It’s entirely possible what’s happening in the States could become the basis for a future battleground here.

All the more reason to ensure the achievements of industry in policing itself are plastered over newspaper pages just as prominently.