We’ve been around for more than 130 years and in the UK for more than a century. During that time we’ve grown and been successful because we’ve listened and responded to what the people who enjoy our drinks tell us they want.
In the last few years we’ve made some significant changes to our business as we respond our consumers’ changing tastes and needs. As more people have started looking to consume less sugar, we’ve been busy responding to that demand. This isn’t new – we started in 1983 with Diet Coke – now one of Britain’s favourite brands, but we’ve accelerated our efforts. Since 2005 we have launched 28 drinks with less or no sugar including Sprite, Dr Pepper, Lilt and Schweppes Lemonade. We’ve focused on reducing sugar, without sacrificing taste. In the past five years alone, we’ve invested £30 million in recipe development to reduce the sugar in the drinks we sell in Great Britain – and we also ensure that every drink we sell has a lower or no sugar alternative. These actions are making a difference by helping to reduce the sugar from soft drinks in people’s diets – this figure has come down by 16% in the last four years alone.
As consumers’ priorities are changing, the business environment in which we operate is changing too. In a world that is evolving fast, like any well-run business, we try to plan ahead and identify any risks that could impact our business in the future and our ability to continue investing in it. We have, of course, been watching very closely the development of the soft drinks tax here in the UK – and no one should be surprised by that. Since the day the tax was announced, we’ve been making our view on it very clear, both publicly and in private – and our point of view on the tax has never changed. The fact we don’t support the tax does not mean we don’t care about obesity or about helping people consume less sugar from our drinks. We just don’t think the tax will do anything to reduce obesity. We have met a wide range of people and organisations with an interest in the sugar tax – often at their request – and told them this. This includes policy makers, academics and nutritionists, as well as single-issue campaign groups and sugar tax campaigners.
The programme also questioned our funding of scientific research around the world. We’re transparent about all the organisations and individuals we work with and go further than many other companies in making this information publicly available in one place. In 2015 we published details of the health and wellness research and partnerships we have invested in and the experts we have worked with and made this available on our website for anyone who wishes to see it.
It is also important that we understand the latest science relating to the ingredients we use in our drinks, which is why we work with experts in food safety. These are reviewed by independent regulators before being approved for use.
Our approach to marketing to children was also raised in the programme. This is another area in which we have made changes. In the UK we don’t buy any advertising targeted at children under 16. That means if more than 25 per cent of the audience is under 16 you won’t see our adverts placed there. We apply this across all channels including TV, print media, outdoor, cinema and digital and social media.
As a company, we have a long history of investing in communities and through ParkLives, which featured in the programme, we have provided hundreds of thousands of people of all ages with the chance to enjoy free and fun activities in their local green spaces and parks. For many of these people the impact of attending ParkLives has been profound. This is why we support it – not because we think it’s the solution to obesity.
I’m proud to manage a business that listens and responds to the people who enjoy its drinks. Not because we have to, but because it makes business sense. It is therefore disappointing that Dispatches chose to ignore the progress we have made. We know more can be done and our business will continue to evolve. We know our future success depends on us continuing to listen to our consumers, operating in a responsible way and making drinks people enjoy and want to buy.
Jon Woods is General Manager of