Leading British supermarket retailer Tesco has announced that it is to remove all lunch box-sized drinks that contain added sugar from its shelves from September.
The move, which has been strongly criticised, comes as part of the company’s efforts to reduce the sugar content of its drinks offering by 30%. Its own branded soft drinks have reportedly reduced their sugar content by 5%.
The company has specifically targeted juice drinks brands with added sugar, including consumer favourite Ribena, made by Suntory in the UK, and Capri-Sun, distributed by Coca-Cola, which it says it will remove from the children’s aisle from September. Customers will, however, be able to buy no-added sugar options of these brands, and they will still be able to purchase full sugar versions in other areas of the store.
While Tesco is playing its part in acting responsibly in the light of the obesity epidemic and its causes, much of which lies with the high consumption of sugar, particularly in soft drinks, criticism of this recent move has come in many forms. Commentators note that the company will still be selling all juice, juice drinks and carbonated soft drinks in other areas of the store, and that it appears to have singled out two brands, while other leading global brands remain unaffected. It will also continue to sell sugar-laden chocolate and confectionery specifically targeted at children, although it was the first retailer to remove such product from checkouts.
The move, which has been dubbed RibenaGate by the British press, has prompted many consumers to take to social media to complain that Tesco has no right to tell them what they should and should not drink and that they want to make their own choices. They also question whether the removal of these products in such a limited way will solve the nation’s growing obesity crisis.
Action for Sugar, which campaigns for the reduction of added sugar in processed foods and drinks, has welcomed the move, saying that processed foods and drinks laden with sugar should be an occasional treat and provide no nutritional value.
Kawther Hashem, nutritionist and researcher for the Action on Sugar group, was reported in the British press: “This is great news from Tesco; it shows they are taking the issue of sugar in soft drinks seriously.
“We would very much like to see other sugary food and drink categories in Tesco do something similar and, more importantly, for all the other retailers to also take on this challenge right away.”
Tesco has stressed that ‘no added sugar versions’ of both brands will be available in the aisles targeting children’s lunchboxes. It says it is targeting soft drinks because it knows that reducing sugar in children’s diets will make a positive impact on health.