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The European soft drinks sector achieved an impressive average 7.6 % sugar reduction between 2019 and 2022

The European soft drinks sector, represented by Unesda, announced further progress1 on its commitments to the EU Code of Conduct on Responsible Food Business and Marketing Practices,2 with strong results achieved in 2022 in its actions to create a healthier beverage system in Europe.

Ian Ellington, President of Unesda and Senior Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer for PepsiCo in Europe, comments: ‘’As a sector, we remain committed to making significant progress on our many EU Code of Conduct commitments. We have achieved impressive results in our health and nutrition actions and, in particular, in our sugar reduction, marketing and advertising practices and school policies.’’

Ellington added: ‘’The journey has not been easy. Rising inflation in 2022 significantly impacted our ability to use more recycled content in our packaging due to the challenges we faced in accessing food-grade feedstock for recycling. We need policy support to deliver fully circular beverage packaging and to continue advancing on our sugar reduction programme.’’

Among Unesda’s achievements are its actions to encourage European consumers towards healthier dietary habits:

The sector delivered a 6% reduction in average added sugars in its soft drinks between 2019 and 2022 across Europe, as indicated by data analytics and consulting company GlobalData. This represents an additional reduction of 4 percentage points within 1 year (between 2021 and 2022). It shows that Unesda is on track towards meeting its commitment to reduce average added sugars in its beverages3 by another 10 % in the EU-27 and in the UK between 2019 and 2025.4 The success of the sector’s reformulation efforts to reduce sugar largely relies on the use of low- and no-calorie sweeteners to increase the offer of low- and no-calorie beverages. These ingredients should continue to be supported by public authorities and regulators to enable the sector to make further progress on sugar reduction.

Unesda corporate members achieved solid results regarding its marketing and advertising commitment, as demonstrated in the audits carried out by independent marketing and media consultancy Ebiquity (television) and the European Advertising Standards Alliance (websites, social media and influencers).5 The sector reached high compliance rates (98.7 % on TV, 92.9 % on company-owned websites, 94.1 % on company-owned social media profiles, and 100 % on influencer profiles), and is committed to continuing to work towards full compliance of its marketing and advertising commitment.

Unesda corporate members also reported to be highly compliant with the sector’s school policies6 in the four selected EU countries for its 2022 monitoring, conducted by third-party auditors BVA-BDRC:7

  • 100 % (primary schools) and 92.3% (secondary schools) in Austria
  • 100 % (primary schools) and 93.4% (secondary schools) in Italy
  • 100 % (primary schools) and 100% (secondary schools) in Slovenia
  • 100 % (primary schools) and 96.2% (secondary schools) in Sweden

Industry faces major challenges to accelerate packaging circularity

Unesda and its corporate members continued their actions to increase the amount of recycled plastic content in their beverage PET bottles to achieve the sector’s objective of using 50% recycled PET by 2025. The cost and availability of this material have been major challenges impacting these efforts. The most effective way to address this issue is to prioritise high-quality recycling in EU and national legislation by granting the sector a priority access right to the feedstock for recycling issued from its PET bottles. This will ensure that PET bottles are recycled into new beverage packaging in a closed-loop system, and are not being downcycled in non-food applications.

The way forward: Policy support is key

The European soft drinks sector remains determined to deliver on all its commitments but needs supportive policies in place to be successful.

In particular, the sector’s further actions to promote healthier lifestyles fully depend on support from EU public authorities and regulators for the use of ingredients assessed as safe by health authorities and on evidence-based dietary recommendations that do not denigrate or discriminate against any ingredient approved for use.

In order to accelerate the transition to full circularity of its packaging, Unesda calls for legislation supporting well-designed, industry-led Deposit Return Systems, the increased collection of beverage packaging across the EU and high-quality recycling through a priority access right to recycling feedstock to ensure a closed-loop system.

In addition, Unesda calls for a realistic regulatory framework on reuse that provides beverage producers flexibility to invest in the packaging mix that makes the most sense from environmental, economic, and consumer perspectives. This also includes considering all available reusable and refill options (at home and on the go) for the achievement of the reuse and refill targets proposed in the proposal for a Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation.

Unesda will continue to engage with EU decision-makers in a constructive manner to help ensure policy predictability and coherence.

1Read Unesda’s 2022 progress report on its commitments to the EU Code of Conduct here.
2The EU Code of Conduct on Responsible Food Business and Marketing Practices was launched by the European Commission in July 2021 and it is an integral part of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy to create a more sustainable food system in Europe. The EU Code of Conduct aims to encourage the entire food and drink sector to provide more sustainable and healthier food and beverage choices.
3Unesda’s sugar reduction commitment is applicable to all product categories under Unesda’s remit, including still drinks, carbonate drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, dilutables and iced teas, but excludes bottled water, 100 % juices, milk based and hot beverages.
4This will represent a 33 % overall reduction in average added sugars in soft drinks since 2000, building on past sugar reduction milestones that the sector achieved from 2015 to 2019 (14.6 % reduction on average) and from 2000 to 2015 (13.3 % reduction on average).
5Unesda corporate members started implementing an effective Responsible Marketing Code of Conduct in 2006 with its commitment to no marketing communication in printed media, websites or during broadcast programmes specifically aimed at children under 12. Since then, they have reinforced this commitment by extending the scope of media channels in which they do not market and advertise their soft drinks to the under-12s: cinemas in 2008 and the digital world, including company-owned websites, in 2018 when they also tightened the audience criteria and committed not to market and advertise their beverages when 35 % of the audience or more was under 12 years of age. As of 1 January 2022, Unesda corporate members extended the age range by committing not to advertise and market any of their soft drinks to children under 13 years across all media. This includes TV, radio, in print, in cinemas and online, including social media and other online platforms and sites (company-owned websites and video-sharing platforms such as YouTube). It also includes direct marketing, product placement, interactive games, outdoor marketing, mobile marketing and contracted influencers. Unesda corporate members also committed to lowering the audience threshold from 35 % to 30 % so that fewer young children are directly exposed to advertising for any of its soft drinks.
6Unesda and its members are committed not to sell any soft drinks in EU primary schools since 2006 (through direct distribution), and to only sell low- and no-calorie soft drinks in EU secondary schools since 2017 (through direct distribution), and only in non-branded vending machines.
7The monitoring of Unesda’s school commitment is performed every two years in a group of different countries where there is a voluntary school commitment in place to provide a diversified sample of larger and smaller countries from different parts of the EU.