The volume of soft drinks consumed each year is in decline. Yet, amazingly, the value of the industry continues to grow. The UK’s population spent £17.4 billion on soft drinks, juices and bottled water in 2016 alone.
Companies have simply responded to health fears – a key factor driving down sales – by upping marketing budgets and developing more reduced-sugar options, particularly in anticipation of the sugar tax.
In fact, still and juice drinks – often seen as a healthier choice – were one of the only industry options that continued to grow in both volume and value terms. These drinks are often owned by the same big companies, so we can be fairly confident that they’ll survive other downward trends.
Ownership in this industry is messy. One company often owns a brand, while another produces and distributes it. For example, in the UK, most PepsiCo brands are licensed and distributed by Britvic PLC. Where this kind of arrangement occurs, we combined the scores from all companies involved. (This meant that sometimes a better company improved the score of a brand owned by a worse one. If you are keen to avoid giving any money to the worst offenders, keep this in mind when looking at the table.)
Supermarket own-brand beverages have a growing share of this industry (24%), so this time we included some of the biggest supermarket soft drinks producers.
This guide covers fizzy drinks, juice drinks, flavoured waters, mixers, squashes and cordials.
Score Table Highlights
The good news is that the number of companies offering ethical alternatives has grown since we last did this guide in 2013. There are now plenty of organic brands such as ChariTea, LemonAid, Lemony and Gingerella.
Several companies (Lemonaid, Global Ethics, and Wayfairer) give some of their proceeds to charitable foundations. While this may be a positive move, we did not give them extra Product Sustainability marks, as we weren’t able to assess the actual merit of their donations.
Sugar in Soft Drinks
A recent review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine claimed that sugar should be considered as addictive as cocaine. While arguments about whether it is physically addictive continue, there is little doubt that its consumption triggers reward systems in the brain that make it difficult to cut down.
Soft drinks are the single biggest source of added sugar for children in the UK – around 30% – and the second largest source for adults. Their consumption has long been linked to an obesity epidemic. The number of obese children and adolescents has risen tenfold in the last 40 years.
Other health problems with sugary drinks are well known: they are linked to tooth cavities and heart disease, and, in 2010, a study found that consuming one to two 12 fl oz (375ml) servings each day increased risk of type 2 diabetes by 26%.
We need some form of sugar in our diets, but the quantity we now consume has made it public health enemy number one. In the 1980s, Government dietary advice had told us to cut back on fat, but obesity levels, heart disease and diabetes cases continued to rise, largely because we were now being sold low-fat food bulked up with carbohydrates, most notably in its purest form, sugar. Scientists increasingly realised that sugar, when processed in the liver, turns into fat before entering our blood stream.
The table below examines the sugar content of best buy and recommended products from the scoretable above, alongside their bestselling, sugar-containing counterparts.
There are approximately 4 g of sugar to a teaspoon. Type of sugar was ignored in calculations for clarity.