People can expect to pay more for their soft drinks from today, Friday April 6 as the government’s ‘sugar tax’ comes into force.
The charge has been introduced as part of efforts to tackle obesity and the income will be used to fund sport in primary schools.
Manufacturers of soft drinks containing more than 5g of sugar per 100ml will pay a levy of 18p a litre to the Treasury, or 24p a litre if the sugar content is more than 8g per 100ml, with costs passed on to retailers and customers.
Pure fruit juices and milk-based drinks are excluded.
Drinks manufacturers have been preparing for the new rules since they were announced and many have reformulated their recipes to take huge amounts of sugar out of their products.
But those that haven’t – like original Coke – will see the price of drinks on the shelves go up by up to 24p a litre, or 48p for a standard two litre bottle of soft drinks.
Drinks like Fanta which used to have 10g of sugar per 100ml have been altered to fall below the 5g limit.
Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said prices on soft drinks in pubs would increase by about 10p as a result of the tax.
AG Barr has stopped making the full-sugar version of Irn Bru. Britvic has cut sugar across its range – including Robinson’s, J2O and Fruit Shoot.
Ribena and Lucozade have also cut sugar levels. Tesco has reformulated all of its own-label soft drinks to come in below the threshold for the levy, claiming the changes have cut more than nine billion calories from customers’ diets every year, as have Morrisons, Asda and The Co-op.
Tesco said it would continue to stock a full range of branded drinks, which could be more expensive or come in a smaller serving size, but estimated 85 per cent of all the drinks it sells would be exempt from the levy.
A Co-op spokeswoman said: “The levy is designed to be passed onto customers and drive a change in consumer behaviour so, for branded soft drinks that do qualify, we will pass on the cost of the levy and the VAT.”
Britvic said 94 per cent of its drinks, including Robinson’s Refresh’d, Purdey’s and Tango, are below or exempt from the levy, with this figure dropping to 72 per cent of Britvic’s total portfolio including PepsiCo and the original Pepsi.
A Coca-Cola Great Britain spokeswoman said: “Coca-Cola Classic is one of the few brands that will be subject to the new tax as we have decided not to change the recipe.
“Consumers tell us not to change it and we believe they should be able to choose a Coca-Cola Classic if that’s the drink they want.
“If they want a Coca-Cola without sugar, we have Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, which will not be subject to the tax.”
Coca-Cola is also replacing its 1.75 litre Coke Classic bottle with a 1.5 litre bottle, which will limit the price rise, and increasing the size of its 1.75 litre Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, which are not subject to the tax, to two litres.
Irn-Bru has reformulated its famously sugary recipe to avoid the tax, cutting the sugar in a can from 8.5 teaspoons to four, despite a consumer backlash and reports that fans were stockpiling cans and bottles of the original.
A spokesman for the drink’s maker A.G. Barr said: “Irn-Bru continues to be made using the same secret Irn-Bru flavour essence, but with less sugar.
“The vast majority of our drinkers want to consume less sugar so that’s what we’re now offering.
“We ran lots of taste tests that showed most people can’t tell the difference, nine out of 10 regular Irn-Bru drinkers told us we had a good or excellent taste match.”
However the British Soft Drinks Association said there was no evidence to suggest that a tax of this sort would have a meaningful impact on obesity.
It said sugar intake from soft drinks had been declining year-on-year since 2013 and yet NHS figures showed that obesity prevalence increased from 15 per cent in 1993 to 27 per cent in 2015.
Coca-Cola Great Britain said: “There is no evidence from anywhere in the world that shows taxing soft drinks reduces obesity rates.
“We were reformulating our drinks to reduce their sugar content for many years before the tax was announced, we’ve done 34 reformulations since 2005, and there is ample data which shows that the sugar people consume from soft drinks has declined significantly over the last decade and continues to do so. As that has happened, obesity rates have continued to rise.”
Ben Reynolds, deputy chief executive at the food and farming charity Sustain, said: “We championed a sugary drinks tax primarily to benefit children’s health, and already we have seen a rapid reaction from the soft drinks industry in reformulating products.
“Whilst this is only one way to tackle the problem, we hope that the higher price of sugary drinks and increased awareness leads to less consumption of sweet and sugary products.”
Drinks manufacturers are being encouraged to pass the cost of the levy on to retailers, who are being encouraged to pass it on to consumers – to discourage the sale of sugary drinks.
Caroline Cerny, of the Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of more than 40 organisations, said: “We have always said that when it comes to obesity, there are lots of different factors that come into play and there is no one magic silver bullet.
“This sugary drink tax will certainly help but on its own we would not expect it to dramatically reduce obesity.
“We need to have a full raft of measures that tackle the wider obesogenic environment.
“This is a really important first step, but it needs to work together with lots of other measures, in particular tackling junk food marketing.”
More work could also be done to help manufacturers reduce the sweetness of drinks as well as the sugar content, to help “change” palettes and get people used to a less sugary diet, Ms Cerny said.
Ed Morrow, a spokesman for the Royal Society for Public Health, said the introduction of the sugar tax was “just a part of the overall picture”.
He added: “It’s a key plank in what we hope now will develop into a more ambitious obesity policy from the Government.”
Better regulation to combat the advertising of high fat, salt or sugar foods has been “sorely lacking” in strategy, Mr Morrow said.
“The level of the obesity crisis that we face is such that it’s not going to be solved by one silver bullet measure, it’s about a lot of things working in concert for a sustained period of time,” he said.
“Changing marketing will be part of that.”
Public Health England says reducing the amount of sugar consumed by children could save 80,000 lives in a generation and save the NHS £15billion.
The changes were announced by George Osborne in the Budget in March 2016.
Five other countries have tried similar taxes and have reduced the sale of sugary soft drinks by up to 25 per cent.