Big Soda says it wants to help combat obesity in Canada, pledging on Tuesday to significantly cut the amount of calories Canadians get from the sugary carbonated and non-carbonated beverages it makes over the next several years.
The Canadian Beverage Association, the industry body that represents Coca-Cola Canada, PepsiCo Canada and Canada Dry Mott’s, is launching a campaign aimed at scaling back the amount of calories it sells through its products by 20 per cent by 2025.
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Jim Goetz, the industry body’s president, said in an interview new “advocacy” efforts will be combined with marketing and product innovations from the big beverage firms, such as introducing new sizes of cans and bottles, new combinations of sweeteners and other efforts to achieve the goal.
“Member companies are putting products out that have a mix of sweeteners that affect the calorie level. You’re also going to see marketing towards some of the low- and no-calorie beverages increase,” Goetz told Global News.
Goetz said the beverage association has commissioned the Conference Board of Canada, an Ottawa-based non-profit research firm, “to measure our progress.”
‘You’re also going to see marketing towards some of the low- and no-calorie beverages increase’
Coca-Cola, the largest beverage manufacturer in the world, is already undertaking efforts to diversify its Canadian products.
In January, the drink giant said it was making its signature cola “less sweet” by cutting eight per cent of the calories from the carbonated beverage, while making “mini-cans” (222ml) and bottles (237ml) more widely available.
Roughly two thirds of Canadian adults are either overweight or obese, according to health industry estimates, while obesity in children has also climbed significantly. Diet professionals have placed some of the blame on increasing levels of sugar consumption in recent decades.
On Tuesday, American researchers released new evidence linking sugar to diabetes and heart disease in overweight children.
A joint study from the University of California, San Francisco, and Touro University California cut sugar consumption in 43 Latino and African-American children and teens who were obese and suffering from metabolic issues to 10 per cent from nearly 30 per cent.
The study found cholesterol levels improved dramatically amid an overall “reversal” in the metabolic challenges that led to overeating or contributed to far-ranging health problems from liver issues to the hardening of artery walls.
Out in front
In some ways, the beverage companies’ Canadian efforts are a race to get ahead of—or catch up to—regulatory and consumer trends.
Health authorities in several countries are increasingly targeting sugar. In March, the World Health Organization recommended both adults and children cut intake to less than 10 per cent of daily caloric consumption. In July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed nutrition labels list added sugar amounts, and recommended a maximum daily intake of sugar of no more than 200 calories—or 40 fewer calories than what’s in one 20-ounce can of Coke.
Consumers have also been cutting consumption – and have been for some time.
In a nine-country survey this summer by Euromonitor International, a researcher, four in 10 respondents said they looked for limited or no added sugar on food labels. In the U.S., 71 per cent said they were concerned about the amount of sugar they consumed, according to a March survey by the International Food Information Council.
U.S. soda consumption has declined for 10 straight years, a similar trend to a decline witnessed in Canada.
Total Canadian soft drink consumption has fallen to about 70 litres per capita this year, according to IBIS World Inc., another research firm, or 191ml a day per Canadian, which amounts to just over half a normal size can of Coke.
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New products that emphasize less sugar and fewer calories – essentially offering more of what consumers want – will lift sales, the industry hopes.
“In the past 10 years data shows that calories are already reduced through beverage consumption,” Canadian Beverage Association president Goetz said.
“We just want to keep that progress going and so we are committing to a goal today to continue that work, so that the three largest beverage companies in Canada will continue that innovation and continue providing Canadians with choice,” he said.
“We will leverage our strengths in marketing and innovation and our vast distribution networks to work toward our goal.”