It’s a case of beverage manufacturer Banks Holdings Limited (BHL) merely giving consumers what they want.
Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Richard Cozier said while the company was not averse to providing soft drinks with less sugar, Barbadians were the ones rejecting it and opting for the sweeter beverages.
At the same time, he said while the company remained open to working with key stakeholders in the production of lower sugar options, it would not be doing so by removing consumers’ freedom of choice.
Cozier’s comments came in light of a recent survey by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC), which revealed that soft drinks and some juices manufactured in Barbados carried alarmingly high levels of refined sugar, which present a clear and present danger.
As a result HCC President Professor Sir Trevor Hassell called on soft drink manufacturers and those who produce sugar-sweetened beverages for sale here to review the sugar content in their products as a priority.
Sir Trevor recommended that soft drink producers halve the sugar levels at the earliest opportunity, after the survey showed that a single soft drink made here, in many instances, contained the equivalent of nearly ten tablespoons of sugar. The total added sugar intake for children is recommended not to exceed five teaspoons per day.
Asked to comment on the latest recommendation, Cozier said the BHL Group had engaged stakeholders, including Sir Trevor, from as far back as 2009, after which the company began a systemic reduction of the sugar content in local drinks, particularly the juices.
However, he said while BHL sought to adjust sugar levels “without materially impacting the flavor profile”, Barbadians had rejected those drinks and had opted for the sweeter stuff instead.
“BHL has produced several offerings in the low, no-sugar and light categories, which Barbadians have unfortunately rejected. Examples of these are Diet Frutee, Frutee Clear, then CLEAR, Pine Hill Light Delights, Pine Hill Sensations 100 per cent juice and BBC Flavoured Waters.
“In most cases the prices were the same and in some instances even lower than their full-sugar counterparts. The fact is however, that consumers continue to opt for the standard offerings. As has been demonstrated, we are by no means averse to the prospect of supplying lower sugar offerings to consumers. On the contrary, we stand ready to assist and are open to working with key stakeholders in the production of flavourful lower sugar options but not at the expense of removing the freedom of choice consumers now enjoy,” he said.
Cozier said the company continued to encourage consumers to vary their intake while creating greater balance by embracing active lifestyles. This, he said, was the reason BHL was engaged heavily in brand sponsorships of every sporting discipline in Barbados.
On World Obesity Day in October last year HCC launched its infographic on the sugar content of popular sugar sweetened beverages in the Caribbean.
While the recommended daily maximum intake of added sugars for children ages two to 18 years is 25 grammes, the data showed most of the popular soft drinks and juices contained between five and 25 grammes more sugar than recommended.
Based on a recommendation from the International Monetary Fund, Government in August 2015 imposed a ten per cent tax on sweetened beverages to raise in excess $10 million in year one and to reduce consumption of sweetened beverages.
The tax, which only raked in about $2 million in the first six months of its imposition, is to be reviewed in two years’ time to determine its impact and whether it should be extended or raised.
Following its imposition BHL had attributed a drop in soft drinks sales to the tax.
However, Minister of Health John Boyce reported last November that it was not having the desired impact.
“We are assessing the success of that programme, but even from where we can see that it has not necessarily had the impact that we would have hoped and that there is still that wanton consumption of sugary beverages,” Boyce said then.