A longitudinal trends analysis on Australian sales of sugar sweetened beverages has found a 30 per cent decrease in per capita sugar contribution from non-alcoholic water-based beverages, the Australian Beverages Council (AusBev) says. The decrease is equivalent to a reduction in 32 teaspoons or 127 grams of sugar per person, per year. AusBev commissioned study looked at the 22-year period from 1997 to 2018.
AusBev CEO Geoff Parker told Food & Drink Business the study is a first of its kind. “What it shows is an industry that is responsive and responsible in meeting the customer demand for greater choice,” he said.
Parker said the council commissioned the research to see if the data would reflect the anecdotal evidence the industry was reporting. There were some early consumer trend indicators stemming from national nutritional surveys in 1995 and again in 2011/12, but a lack of anything more recent.
“We knew that in 2015, the lines on the graph of sugar sweetened beverages and low/no sugar water-based beverages crossed, and the latter started to outstrip the sale of former.
“What that tells us from a government and public health perspective is that people are making the right choice for them on that particular occasion. People are listening to the public health messages and acting on them in regards to motivation and the importance of the balanced diet.
- The study found a 30 per cent decrease in per capita sugar contribution from non-alcoholic water-based beverages over the 22-year period (1997-2018), which is equivalent to a reduction in 32 teaspoons or 127 grams of sugar per person, per year.
- In 1997, Australians consumed 83 litres of sugar-sweetened drinks per person per annum compared to 61 litres per person per annum in 2018. In contrast, 88 litres of no- and low- sugar choices, such as plain and sparkling water and sugar-free drinks, were consumed per capita in 2018.
- Evidence of a major change in what Australians are drinking can also be found in bottled and packaged water which now outsells sugar-sweetened carbonated soft drinks, and 59 per cent of water-based drinks consumed are low- or no-sugar, compared to just 36 per cent in 1997.
- Volume sales of still and sparkling unflavoured water have more than quadrupled, from 6 litres per person, per year (1997) to 48 litres per person per year (2018) indicating the drinks industry is driving change in consumption that is aligned with public health goals by offering additional healthier options, more of the time.
- 64 per cent of drinks in the fridge in 1997 were sugar-sweetened drinks with the remaining 36 per cent made up by non-sugar options. Today, 59 per cent of drinks are non-sugar drinks and 41 per cent are sugar sweetened.
- The research demonstrates an important shift in consumer behaviour which is in line with the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the industry’s efforts to encourage healthier lifestyles, including the ABCL’s Sugar Reduction Pledge to reduce sugar across the industry’s portfolio by 20 per cent 2025.
Following the National Nutrition Survey in 2011/12, AusBev commissioned the CSIRO to do a secondary analysis of the data from that survey and the one completed in 1995. It showed that in the time between those two surveys, between both children and adults were drinking significantly less naturally sugared beverages in favour for the low/no sugar alternatives.
The data also showed that while naturally sugar sweetened beverages can be part of a bad diet, they weren’t necessarily the cause of it.
Parker explained: “The 2011/12 data and our CSIRO secondary analysis showed sugar-sweetened soft drinks can be part of a bad diet but are actually not unique drivers of a bad diet.
“For example - soft drinks as a discretionary part of the diet were, from an energy contribution perspective, about eighth or ninth for children and adults. So, they can be a part of a bad diet, but they're not driving it. They can be a marker.”
Parker said it was frustrating that despite the evidence consumers are drinking less sugar sweetened beverages and the industry has undergone major portfolio renovation, the non-alcoholic beverage sector is still very much in the spotlight in the obesity discussion.
“What this underscores, is that obesity is really complex – it’s multifactorial, there’s dozens of factors that influence and impact a person gaining weight and becoming obese.
“There are what seems to be contradictory graphs that show the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages and the contribution of sugar in the diet from soft drinks have been declining over 20 years. However, during that time the rates or prevalence of overweight and obesity has continued to rise.
“Drinking sugar sweetened beverages and then not expending the energy from that intake is not good for you. Drinking too much alcohol is not good for you, nor is consuming too many hamburgers - so its complex,” Parker said.
Parker likened the research to another piece in the puzzle of ensuring Australians have a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle.
“The Health Star Rating system is one part of the puzzle, the National Health Guidelines are another. Industry providing a broad choice of drinks to suit everyone at different occasions is a part, but this shows consumers are already making smarter choices and clearly responding to the health messages out there,” Parker said.
Parker said AusBev would like to see more regular National Nutrition Surveys. “We’re not the only sector advocating for it. We know they’re expensive and time consuming, but for a country like Australia where consumer trends change quickly and the industry can respond at pace, ten years is too long.”
The AusBev Council is advocating for a national survey every five years.
Listen to Food & Drink Business editor Kim Berry interview AusBev Council CEO Geoff Parker here.