The seven industry leaders - Coca-Cola, F&N Foods, Malaysia Dairy Industries, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Pokka, and Yeo Hiap Seng – account for 70% of pre-packaged sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) sold in Singapore.
Consequently the commitments mean that sugar consumption from SSBs could potentially be reduced by around 300,000kg per year.
The commitments are part of the Ministry of Health’s efforts to tackle diabetes. Welcoming the commitments from the beverage industry, the Ministry says it has been ‘heartened to receive the strong support from industry players on sugar reduction efforts’.
In the meantime, the Ministry is also studying additional measures for reducing sugar consumption, such as sugar taxes, warning labels, and advertising restrictions on drinks with a high sugar content.
More than 400,000 Singaporeans live with diabetes, according to the Ministry of Health. It adds that 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.
It has therefore set out its ‘War on Diabetes’, pinpointing SSBs as a key area of focus in reducing sugar consumption. It says 60% of total sugar intake comes from sugary beverages such as soft drinks, juices, coffees and teas, with the remaining made up by sugar from foods (such as cakes, desserts, and confectionery).
Singaporeans, on average, consume more than 1,500 teaspoons of sugar from pre-packaged SSBs annually.
Many products already come within the sugar limits: for example, a 330ml can of Coca-Cola in Singapore contains 35g sugar / 10.6g per 100ml.
However, the cap will lead to a sugar consumption reduction of around 300,000kg per year, according to the Ministry of Health, by tackling drinks with a higher sugar content.
In PepsiCo's portfolio, 80% of beverages currently contain 12% or less added sugar. Mug Root Beer (13.5%) and Mountain Dew (12.5%) are above the 12% added sugar limit.
For Coca-Cola, there are three drinks above the limit: A&W Sarsparilla (12.4%), Fanta Strawberry (12.2%) and Schweppes Bitter Lemon (12.1%).
Less than 5% of Pokka's portfolio contains total sugar of 12% or more. The drinks currently over this threshold are Soursop Juice Drink (12.3%), Guava Juice Drink (12.3%) and partner brands Kickapoo (12.8%), Sinalco (12.3%) and Green Spot (12%).
Pokka says it has already begun reformulating its Soursop and Guava juice drinks.
Alain Ong, CEO, Pokka, says the company fully supports the government's measures to fight diabetes. However, he warns that "reducing sugar in beverages alone is one-dimensional: moving forward, our authorities should also adopt a holistic perspective of healthy living, regulating sugary food items such as snacks and confectioneries".
The Ministry of Health has welcomed the beverage industry’s pledge to limit sugar content in drinks, saying: “The industry support to lower the sugar level in SSBs will pave the way for further partnership between the government and industry players to co-create solutions in reducing sugar consumption in Singapore.
“The Health Promotion Board will continue its efforts to reach out to Singaporeans and all beverage manufacturers to expand the range of healthier drink options in Singapore. This includes collaboration with industry players and research institutions to conduct R&D on healthier ingredients and food products.
“The Diabetes Prevention and Care Taskforce is studying additional measures on how to encourage further reductions in sugar consumption in Singapore, learning from the experiences of other countries. These include sugar tax, warning labels and advertising restrictions on SSBs with high sugar content. The Taskforce will be consulting stakeholders in the coming months to discuss these ideas and the implementation details.”