Brands react to PM Lee's call for consumers to cut sugar and eat healthier

Several brands have signed a pledge to show their cooperation in reducing the amount of sugar in sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). According to Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH), these brands are Coca-Cola, F&N Foods, Malaysia Dairy Industries, Nestle, PepsiCo, Pokka, and Yeo Hiap Seng.

The move follows a recent national day rally speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who urged consumers to cut their sugar intake to reduce risk of diabetes. The brands, which currently make up 70% of the total pre-packaged SSBs, have committed to a maximum sugar content of 12% for all drinks sold in Singapore by 2020. The move looks to potentially sugar consumption from SSBs by about 300,000kg per year.

“We are heartened to receive the strong support from industry players on sugar reduction efforts,” the MOH statement read.

Brands which Marketing reached out to say they are in support of the new guidelines and will work to support the government’s measures in fighting diabetes and promote healthier living. In a conversation with Marketing, Alain Ong, CEO at POKKA International, said that currently only 5% of its beverages are affected by the new sugar guidelines, and hence needs to be reformulated.

When it comes to impact on sales or earnings, Ong explained that the company is seeing “good growth in healthier choice options” in the past decade. This comes as Singaporeans increasingly become more health-conscious and continue to shift from soft drinks with empty calories to healthier beverages such as tea and juice.

“We are not worried that sales would be negatively affected as we will still aim to ensure the beverages taste good to consumers while being healthier at the same time,” Ong said. Responding to Marketing’s queries, a Coca-Cola spokesperson said that the company will look towards reducing sugar content in its SSBs by 10% by 2020. This is on top of its current pledge of not having more than 12% sugar in its portfolio of products.

“As part of this, we are rethinking many of our recipes to reduce sugar and are innovating to launch new lower or no-sugar drinks, because while sugar in moderation is fine, too much of it is not good for anyone,” the Coca-Cola spokesperson said. Currently, 97% of the company’s drinks sold in Singapore have less than 12% sugar, said the company.

The three drinks in its portfolio which exceed the 12% sugar cap are A&W Sarsaparilla, Schweppes Bitter Lemon and Fanta Strawberry. As such, the Coca-Cola will be rethinking the recipes for these drinks.

Other actions the company has taken include the creation of smaller, more convenient packaging to make managing sugar easier.

Coca-cola said it is also continuing in its policy not to target advertising at children under 12 years old globally.

Echoing similar sentiments is Nestle. In a statement to Marketing, Chow Phee Chat, director of marketing communications and corporate affairs, said that Nestlé will continue to commit to provide healthier and tastier choices to meet the requirements of the Health Promotion Board.

“Inspired by our global commitment to reducing added sugars in our products by 5% by 2020, we have made further sugar reductions through several exciting product launches in Singapore,” Chow said.

“We want to provide consumers with the relevant information they need to make healthier choices. We believe this can be done through providing transparent and easy to understand nutrition information on all our products, such as Guideline Daily Amount (GDA)-based label on the front of our products,” Chow added.

When contacted by Marketing, a spokesperson from Malaysia Dairy Industries (MDI) said that the company is committed to collaborate with MOH and HPB. Currently, all beverages from MDI under the Marigold and Vitagen brands are below HPB;s 12% sugar target for the industry.

“MDI is committed to contribute positively to the long-term well-being of the people of Singapore. It will continue its efforts, in areas of product innovation, educational programmes and communication initiatives to drive towards a healthier nation,” the MDI spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, a PepsiCo spokesperson said that the company has voluntarily committed to meet the Singapore government’s goal in the arena of SSBs. Currently, 80% of PepsiCo’s beverages sold in Singapore already contain 12% or less added sugars.

The spokesperson added that PepsiCo has made significant progress on portfolio transformation in Singapore. In April 2017, it opened a new concentrate plant in Singapore to support the company’s goal of transforming its beverage portfolio to reduce calories and added sugars.

“We will continue this work with the goal of meeting the Singapore government’s goal by 2020, if not earlier,” the PepsiCo spokesperson said.

Also responding to Marketing’s queries is Melvin Teo, group CEO of Yeo Hiap Seng. Currently, less than 1% of the company’s product volume contains more than 12% sugar. Hence, there is minimal impact on the company’s drink portfolio.

“Currently, over 60% of our product volume is with Healthier Choice Symbol endorsement and less than 1% of our range is above 12% sugar level. We will continue our efforts in developing products with health and wellness in mind,” Teo explained.

Moving forward, Teo added that the company’s marketing strategy would be to increase consumers’ awareness of these healthier options.

Marketing has reached out to F&N Foods for comment.

Supermarket brands also get in on the action

To show their support for PM Lee's call for healthier dietary habits, supermarkets such as NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Shiong have started offering discounts on its brown rice products. This comes as PM Lee urged Singaporeans to replace white rice in their diet for brown rice.

According to ChannelNews Asia, eight rice brands will be on discount this week at NTUC FairPrice. This includes brown and red rice from its housebrand as well as a brand of rice which has a lower glycemic index (GI). Similarly, Sheng Shiong is offering a 10% discount on its house brand rice products, namely Royal Golden Grain and Happy Family Red Cargo, according to a report by TODAY.

Both brands said this was in support of PM Lee's words to get Singaporeans to eat healthier. Marketing has reached out to NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Shiong for comment.

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