children's soft drinks juice

A “large proportion” of Tesco customers who deserted its kids lunchbox aisle after Ribena-gate have returned, the retailer claimed this week - though it admitted volumes were still down in the fixture.

Tesco suffered a major fallout in September after it delisted a raft of SKUs including non-sugar-free versions of Ribena.

The move, which also included the delisting of CCE’s Capri-Sun and Rubicon lunchbox drinks, came as part of Tesco’s open-ended pledge in April to remove 5% of sugar a year from its soft drinks.

This week Tesco soft drinks buying manager David Beardmore told the Sugar Reduction Summit in London the decision to axe lunchbox Ribena had been the biggest test yet of its commitment to “lead on health”.

But he vowed it would continue with its reformulation drive, as he revealed Tesco had joined forces with Public Health England to launch a major study into the impact of choice editing on health, with testing starting in the new year,

“Most unpopular of all we have removed choice particularly in terms of kids’ juice drinks, going no-added-sugar only,” said Beardmore.

“That has quite an impact in terms of customers… they don’t like choice editing. However, what we have seen is a large proportion of the customers who were buying in the 12 weeks prior to our change returning and buying the category.”

Drinks industry sources suggested that “large proportion” was around 85%, meaning hundreds of thousands of shoppers have gone elsewhere. The results illustrate the dilemma facing the industry as it responds to sugar reduction targets.

Last week The Grocer revealed the BRC was calling for mandatory targets across all major food and drink sectors.

However, one supplier source said: “If you look at what has happened after Ribenagate, when you start choice editing the result is a loss in volumes, which Tesco can ill afford,” he said.

But Beardmore insisted Tesco could grow its share of the market and still hit its reformulation agenda targets, confirming it was on course to exceed the 5% reduction this year. “Our category has a £1.8bn turnover and accounts for a 33.5% share of the market and that share has consistently gone up in the past three and a half years despite the work we have done on reformulation.”