Major soft drink makers in Singapore to cut sugar content by at least 12%

August 25, 2017

Seven of Singapore’s major soft drinks manufacturers – Coca-Cola, F&N Foods, Malaysia Dairy Industries, Nestle, PepsiCo, Pokka and Yeo Hiap Seng – have agreed to lower the sugar content in all their beverages in the country by 12% or lower by 2020, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement.

The drinks that are currently above the sugar limit and will be affected include Coca-Cola’s A&W sarsaparilla, Schweppes bitter lemon and Fanta Strawberry, PepsiCo’s mug root beer and Mountain Dew, Pokka’s soursop juice drink and guava juice drink, partner brands that it manufactures for – Kickapoo, Sinalco and Green Spot, and Yeo Hiap Seng’s tamarind juice drink.

“These players make up 70% of the total pre-packaged sugar-sweetened beverages market in Singapore. This move could potentially reduce sugar consumption from these beverages by about 300,000kg per year,” MOH said.

MOH’s announcement came two days after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day rally, urged Singaporeans to cut back on sugary drinks, as they are significantly increasing their risk of diabetes by having such drinks.

Just one can of soft drink can contain eight cubes of sugar – much more than needed for the whole day, Lee said, as he spoke at length on diabetes as one of Singapore’s long-term issues.

MOH on Monday added that sugar-sweetened beverages are a key area of focus in reducing sugar consumption among Singaporeans because “60% of our total sugar intake comes from sugary beverages such as soft drinks, juices, coffees and teas”.

“Singaporeans, on average, currently consume more than 1,500 teaspoons of sugar from pre-packaged sugar-sweetened beverages annually,” an MOH spokesperson said.

The Diabetes Prevention and Care Taskforce is also studying additional measures on how to encourage further reductions in sugar consumption in Singapore, learning from the experiences of other countries, she added.

“These include sugar tax, warning labels and advertising restrictions on sugar sweetened beverages with high sugar content. The Taskforce will be consulting stakeholders in the coming months to discuss these ideas and the implementation details,” the spokesperson said.

In April 2016, MOH declared War on Diabetes to rally a whole-of-nation effort to reduce the burden of diabetes in Singapore’s population. One in three Singaporeans has a lifetime risk of getting diabetes and the number of those with diabetes is projected to reach one million by 2050, if current trends continue, MOH said.

Shared responsibility

Soft drinks manufacturers said they agreed to reduce the sugar content in their drinks as they support the Government’s initiative and commitment to encourage healthier living, and that these goals align with their companies’ goals.

They added that they believe that their drinks will continue to sell well as consumers become more concerned over their health, and opt for lower sugar beverages. They also said that they will ensure that the drinks taste good despite less sugar.

General Manager of Coca-Cola Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Cambodia Tony Del Rosario said that on top of keeping to the 12% cap by 2020, the company will reduce the sugar content of its sugar-sweetened beverages by 10% by 2020.

“We’re offering more new drinks with low sugar content or no sugar added. We’re making smaller, more convenient packages available so managing sugar is easier. We’re giving people the information they need to make truly informed choices,” he said.

The average sugar content of Coca-Cola Singapore’s portfolio is 8.1% based on 2015 survey data, Mr Del Rosario said. He expects this average to drop to 7.29% or lower by 2020.

Coca-Cola Singapore currently offers more than 40 different beverages options, of which 40% fall into the lower or no sugar categories. These include Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Aquarius, and Heaven and Earth Jasmine Green Tea.

Pokka International’s chief executive Alain Ong said his company has started to look into formulating Pokka Soursop and Guava to lower the total sugar content from the current 12.3%.

“We will also work closely with our partner brands – Kickapoo, Sinalco and Green Spot – to tweak their recipes to meet the sugar guideline and lower from their current levels of 12.8%, 12.3% and 12% respectively,” he said.

A spokesman for PepsiCo said that currently, 80% of its beverages sold in Singapore already contain 12% or less added sugars.

Currently, more than 40% of Pokka’s portfolio of over 50 flavoured drinks contains six% or less sugar, in meeting with the Health Promotion Board’s Healthier Choice requirement, he said.

He added that Pokka is able to create its beverages with less sugar and more plant-based sugar-substitutes through its research and development capabilities.

“We do not use intense artificial sweeteners such as acesulfame, potassium and aspartame in our beverages, unlike a few other brands, as they do not help in lightening up the taste palate of consumers which is the fundamental in healthier eating and drinking,” he said.

He added that consumers who become used to such intense sweetness may also find less intensely sweet but nutritious food, such as fruit and vegetable, less appealing or even unpalatable.

Mr Ong also said regulation should also apply to beverages imported into the country to ensure a consistent approach.

Group chief executive at Yeo Hiap Seng Melvin Teo said that currently, over 60% of its sugar-sweetened drinks have achieved the Healthier Choice endorsement and less than one% of its range is above 12% sugar level.

“It is important that we produce beverages that still taste great to ensure consumers continue to have an enjoyable drinking experience. We do this for example, by using natural substitute for sugar, even though cost is higher. We have not passed on this additional cost to the consumers,” he said.

Nestlé Singapore, Malaysia Dairy Industries and F&N Foods, which currently do not have any sugar-sweetened beverages that are over 12% limit, said that they will continue their efforts to make their drinks healthier.

Director of marketing communications and corporate affairs at Nestlé Singapore Chow Phee Chat said that the company has invested in making its products healthier and tastier for many years, for instance by reducing sugar and adding nutrients like whole grains, to encourage consumers to switch to healthier options.

In line with its global commitment to reducing added sugars in its products by five% by 2020, it has made further sugar reductions in products here, like its Nescafe Original, and Milo Gao Siew Dai.


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