Tesco is all set to stir up still further its award-winning soft drinks category shakeup, with the axe falling on a number of the UK’s best-known kids soft drinks as part of its focus on childhood obesity - including lines from Capri-Sun, Rubicon and Ribena.
And that’s before we mention other brands that have ‘voluntarily’ reformulated their kiddie drinks, like Fruit Shoot.
A part of me thinks this is a really sensible idea. Some of these drinks are sickly, syrupy sweet, and in the context of the obesity crisis, the industry can’t surely continue heaping more spoonfuls of added sugar into kids.
But another part of me worries where all this ends. Tesco’s moves for now stay well clear of the fizzy soft drinks category, which many in the health lobby are gunning for - although Tesco has said this is the start of a broader clampdown across its entire soft drinks line-up, with others like the milk drinks category surely heading for an appointment at the reformulation factory pronto.
Yet as Tesco’s crusade gathers pace, it could face hostility on a number of sides, not least on the basis of consumer choice. Faced with the prospect of a kids drinks fixture full of often foul-tasting, synthetic artificial sweeteners, surely consumers will either switch to another retailer, or switch to an adult soft drinks brand. Will Tesco really go to war with the likes of Coca Cola? The UK’s no1 grocery brand - online and in-store - is a favourite with kids. If it axes red Coke what will the impact be on its sales?
And if it doesn’t, how will the health lobby react? They won’t be happy until all sugary products have been removed from the shelves altogether.
And what will Tesco’s attitude be to the other culprits when it comes to sugar - confectionery, biscuits, cereals, yoghurts, ice cream etc. To use a Public Health England term, soft drinks have become the “low hanging fruit”; but if soft drinks constitute empty categories, the nutritional value of others are not exactly robust. It feels like Tesco has just crossed the Rubicon. Quite literally.