Revealed: What consumers really think about soft drinks

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This article is part of our Soft Drinks Report 2015

As health campaigners increasingly target soft drinks, their efforts are starting to gain traction with consumers.

That is the warning for the soft drinks sector from an exclusive poll for The Grocer, which reveals more than three quarters of Brits now believe full-sugar carbonates are “unhealthy”, and 45% are in favour of a tax on sugary soft drinks.

Consumers’ biggest concerns centre on high-sugar, high-caffeine energy drinks, our poll reveals. More than half of British shoppers – and 65% of parents – believe their sale to under-16s should be banned, while three quarters describe energy drinks as “unhealthy” and 47% support the idea of a special tax on them.

By comparison, 39% want a tax on full-sugar carbonates, and 38% favour a tax on sugary sports drinks.

“Energy drinks are clearly seen as the stand-out target for taxation,” says Lucia Juliano, head of consumer retail research at Harris Interactive, which polled 2,000 consumers for The Grocer.

“Half of the public and almost two-thirds of parents believe the sale of energy drinks to children should be banned. This is a very strong message to a category that’s booming. It suggests many people are not sure what is in these drinks and the effects of the ingredients on children.”

Despite these consumer concerns, the market is in strong growth. Combined sales of the 10 biggest energy drink SKUs have surged 8.2% to £753.3m on volumes up 10.6% in the past year [IRI 52 w/e 31 January 2015].

Campaign group Action on Sugar, which called for the sale of energy drinks to be banned to under-16s in February, says the poll’s findings are further evidence of the public’s growing concern over the toll food and drink with high sugar levels is having on the nation’s health.

“Energy drinks in particular should have no part in children’s diets, and it’s very interesting that even non-parents believe sales of energy drinks should be banned to under-16s,” says campaign director Katharine Jenner.

“We hope the government, who have failed to pay heed to the evidence that a sugary drinks duty will work to reduce sugar intakes, will at least pay attention to the public’s opinion. Everyone agrees: it’s time to reduce sugar, now.”

Not quite everyone. ”We don’t believe there is strong support for taxes on popular products which do not achieve the solutions their proponents claim,” says Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association. 

“There’s no evidence a tax on soft drinks has an impact on levels of obesity. In fact, both Belgium and Denmark rejected the notion of a tax in 2013 and evidence from France shows that while sales of soft drinks initially fell after a tax was introduced in 2012, they have increased since.

“The soft drinks industry has done more than any other sector to promote calorie reduction, through reformulation, smaller pack sizes and increased promotion of low and no calorie drinks. The wider food and drink industry should be concerned to see a particular product singled out this way.”

Our research does indeed suggest many consumers would not be put off buying sugary drinks if they were subject to an obesity tax.

One in five says they would not be discouraged from buying full-sugar carbonates regardless of how much the price of a standard 330ml can increased by. Twenty eight percent say an up to 20% price increase – the proposed rate of taxation by some groups – would discourage them from buying.

What consumers really think about sugary soft drinks: the results of our poll

Do you support the idea of a tax on sugary soft drinks?  

By age/gender
 TotalMaleFemale16-2425-3435-4445-5455+
Yes, it’s a good idea.45%47%43%43%38%42%46%49%
No, it’s a bad idea.35%38%32%38%39%34%33%34%
I don’t know21%16%25%20%24%24%21%17%
By region
 ScotNorth EastNorth WestYorksMidsWalesSouth WestEastLondonSoutheast
Yes, it’s a good idea.39%49%42%46%44%45%42%47%53%42%
No, it’s a bad idea.43%30%39%35%37%36%36%31%26%35%
I don’t know18%22%20%20%19%19%22%22%21%23%
By social group/parental status
 ABC1C2DEParentsNon-parents
Yes, it’s a good idea.51%42%46%41%45%44%
No, it’s a bad idea.34%36%36%34%33%36%
I don’t know15%22%18%24%23%19%

Which, if any, of these drinks should be taxed? 

 TotalMaleFemale16-2425-3435-4445-5455+
Which, if any, of these types of drinks do you think should be taxed?47%44%50%44%38%47%47%52%
Sugary (excluding diet varieties) carbonated soft drinks (i.e. Coca-Cola; Pepsi; Fanta)39%38%40%32%32%36%39%46%
Sugary sports drinks (i.e. Lucozade Sport; Gatorade)38%37%38%27%30%37%36%46%
Sugary squashes (excluding no added sugar varieties) (Ribena, Vimto, Robinsons)27%28%26%16%18%26%26%36%
Smoothies (Innocent, own label smoothies)13%16%10%13%7%13%11%17%
Fruit juices (Tropicana, own label fresh orange juice, Copella, Innocent)11%14%10%8%9%12%10%14%
None of these drinks should be taxed44%44%44%41%48%43%46%42%

The average price of a sugary carbonated soft drink is 67p.What price would discourage you from buying?  

By age/gender
 TotalMaleFemale16-2425-3435-4445-5455+
67p is too much24%26%22%20%26%26%22%25%
70p (5% increase)11%12%10%11%14%12%15%5%
74p (10% increase)6%7%6%7%8%6%4%7%
80p (20% increase)11%11%11%14%9%11%8%13%
£1 (50%) increase)28%28%28%34%23%26%30%28%
No price increase would discourage me from buying it20%17%22%13%20%19%21%23%
By region
 ScotNorth EastNorth WestYorksMidsWalesSouth WestEastLondonSoutheast
67p is too much25%25%26%29%25%20%25%21%20%27%
70p (5% increase)9%16%9%12%10%18%7%9%16%9%
74p (10% increase)5%12%5%7%5%3%7%7%9%6%
80p (20% increase)7%12%11%12%14%14%10%17%8%8%
£1 (50%) increase)27%21%28%28%29%25%31%24%31%28%
No price increase would discourage me from buying it27%13%20%14%17%20%21%23%17%22%
By social group/parental status
 ABC1C2DEParentsNon-parents
67p is too much22%21%29%26%25%24%
70p (5% increase)9%11%15%11%13%10%
74p (10% increase)4%7%9%6%6%7%
80p (20% increase)13%13%9%10%11%11%
£1 (50%) increase)32%30%22%27%29%27%
No price increase would discourage me from buying it21%18%16%22%16%22%

Should the sale of energy drinks to under-16s be banned?

By age/gender
 TotalMaleFemale16-2425-3435-4445-5455+
Yes55%49%61%34%56%61%59%57%
No24%30%19%46%29%18%19%20%
I don’t know21%21%21%20%15%20%22%23%
By region
 ScotNorth EastNorth WestYorksMidsWalesSouth WestEastLondonSoutheast
Yes55%59%57%59%55%54%56%53%45%61%
No29%25%25%20%24%28%26%24%25%19%
I don’t know17%16%18%21%21%19%19%23%30%20%
By social group
 ABC1C2DE
Yes58.10%53.60%58.80%52.80%
No23.80%25.20%21.00%24.80%
I don’t know18.10%21.20%20.20%22.40%
Parents only
 TotalMaleFemale16-2425-3435-4445-5455+
Yes64%60%67%60%66%64%65%48%
No21%26%16%24%25%16%22%21%
I don’t know16%14%17%17%9%20%13%31%

Which of the following products would you describe as ’unhealthy’?  

 TotalMaleFemale16-2425-3435-4445-5455+
Regular Cola (e.g. Coke or Pepsi)75%70%81%70%69%78%80%77%
Energy drinks (such as Monster; Relentless; Red Bull)75%68%82%74%67%77%78%77%
Carbonated fruit drinks (e.g. Fanta, Lilt, Tango)65%59%71%64%60%67%71%63%
Cola with artificial sweeteners (e.g. Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Pepsi Max)56%50%62%65%57%53%56%55%
Carbonated fruit drinks with artificial sweeteners (Diet or Zero version of Fanta, Lilt, Tango)51%46%56%61%46%49%54%50%
Sports drinks (such as Lucozade, Gatorade)50%43%56%45%47%49%52%51%
Squash (such as Robinsons, Vimto, Ribena)21%18%24%22%18%19%22%23%
Flavoured bottled water14%13%16%17%10%15%13%16%
Fruit smoothies11%12%11%6%7%9%13%15%
Fruit juice9%8%10%10%9%8%9%9%
Fruit & veg smoothies6%7%5%3%4%5%6%8%
Fruit & veg juice5%5%4%8%6%4%6%3%
None of these10%13%7%7%12%10%10%10%

Which of the following statements do you agree with regarding soft drinks? 

By age/gender
 TotalMaleFemale16-2425-3435-4445-5455+
I avoid added sugar but think naturally occurring sugars are fine42%40%45%35%34%34%48%51%
I avoid artificial sweeteners21%21%21%25%20%20%24%19%
I avoid all sugar at all costs13%13%12%6%10%15%12%16%
I avoid all (artificial or natural) sweeteners7%7%6%6%5%6%7%8%
I don’t really think about the sugar content of soft drinks34%36%32%45%44%37%30%27%
By region
 ScotNorth EastNorth WestYorksMidsWalesSouth WestEastLondonSoutheast
I avoid added sugar but think naturally occurring sugars are fine34%45%42%40%41%58%40%47%40%45%
I avoid artificial sweeteners16%15%12%22%22%23%31%16%29%19%
I avoid all sugar at all costs13%10%14%13%9%10%15%17%14%13%
I avoid all (artificial or natural) sweeteners4%9%5%7%9%5%8%6%7%6%
I don’t really think about the sugar content of soft drinks44%38%38%39%36%25%24%28%32%36%
By social group/parental status
 ABC1C2DEParentsNon-parents
I avoid added sugar but think naturally occurring sugars are fine44%43%49%38%38%45%
I avoid artificial sweeteners22%19%25%20%20%21%
I avoid all sugar at all costs14%11%14%12%12%13%
I avoid all (artificial or natural) sweeteners8%8%8%6%7%7%
I don’t really think about the sugar content of soft drinks29%35%25%41%38%32%

Harris Interactive UK polled 2,030 members of the public on behalf of The Grocer during the week commencing 9 March, 2015. Harris Interactive UK is a full service, consultative custom market research agency working internationally out of offices in the UK and Europe. With in-house expertise covering all areas of research design, implementation, analysis and reporting, it has particular strengths in loyalty and brand. For more information, please visit the Harris Interactive UK website

 

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