Campaign bosses take on Coke honcho over new brand
Health experts accuse Coca Cola of misleading UK public over new “anti-obesity” soft drink
Coca-Cola’s announcement of a new soft drink with a third less sugar and a third fewer calories has not been greeted with unanimous approval. While the product has been pitched as part of government efforts to tackle obesity in the UK, critics remain far from convinced that it will have any noticeable effects.
Due for UK release in the autumn, Coca-Cola Life is sweetened by natural ingredients such as stevia instead of artificial equivalents, and the company says that the beverage is intended to support government aims for a 5% reduction in the average calories per litre in sparkling drinks by the end of 2014. Coca Cola Life will add one more variant to the famous brand, which already includes standard Coca Cola, Coca Cola Zero and Diet Coke.
Coca-Cola Europe president James Quincey said: “We were early signatories to the UK government’s Responsibility Deal and, as we work with others across society to address the public-health challenge of obesity in the UK and across Europe, we will continue to take actions that help people balance their lifestyles.”
However, health campaigners argue that the new product is still laden with more than four teaspoons of sugar per 330ml can – around a quarter of a child’s daily allowance. Children’s Food Campaign coordinator Malcolm Clark believes that Coca-Cola is using its support for public-health plans to sell more products. “There is little to applaud in Coca-Cola’s announcement,” he said. “Fundamentally, this is about a company launching a sugary product to encourage more people to consume a substance that contributes to a range of dietary and health-related problems.”
He added: “Coca-Cola appears to be using the cover of the government’s discredited Responsibility Deal to seek acclaim for bringing out a product that still contains over four teaspoons of sugar per 330ml can … The nature of Coca-Cola’s business – of selling us sugary products – has not changed. There is no commitment in this announcement to stop promoting or selling their full-sugar brands, or of “smart-swapping” to diet and no-sugar alternatives as Public Health England recommends. And, with Coca-Cola failing to sign up to the new front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme or support government efforts for a Food Promotion pledge, we remain to be convinced that the sugary drinks industry is moving much in the right direction.”
Adding to the scepticism, Action on Sugar scientific director Dr Aseem Malhotra said: “Whatever the company says, this is a product with a high sugar content and it will encourage people to have a sweet tooth. Companies like Coca-Cola have no interest whatsoever in public health.”
So, the question remains: are Coca-Cola chiefs paying lip service to serious health concerns to boost their profits, or are they intentionally trying to develop healthier products?