A tax on sugary drinks comes into effect in the UK on Friday as part of a drive to reduce obesity. The levy has been welcomed by one soft drinks startup, which has tasked itself with turning one of the world’s most popular consumer products into a force for good
In the time it takes you to read this article, roughly five million Coca-Cola drinks will have been consumed around the world. By the end of the day? The figure will stand at 1.9bn.
And that’s just Coca-Cola. Those statistics don’t include the likes of Pepsi, Dr Pepper or Scottish drinks brand Barr’s – some of the other major players in the multibillion-pound soft drinks industry. Sugared drinks are coming under ever-increasing scrutiny due to their links to diabetes, obesity and other issues such as plastic pollution.
In a bid to mitigate the health impact of such products, the UK government will introduce a new tax on sugary drinks on Friday (6 April). Similar levies have already been rolled out in the United Arab Emirates and France, as well as in Hungary, where the consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks has reportedly fallen by 19 per cent as a result.
Even before the UK’s tax has been implemented, it has had an impact. The sugar content of some soft drinks has been slashed by manufacturers in a bid to avoid the threshold for the levy. Supporters claim the tax is a victory for public health, while most drinks companies oppose it on the grounds that it will be ‘ineffective’ and leave consumers out of pocket.
There are two bands under the levy: a 24p per litre level for drinks with 8g of sugar per 100ml, and an 18p per litre level for drinks with 5g of sugar per 100ml. The proceeds will go towards funding sport in primary schools.
Soft drinks company Karma Cola has welcomed the tax, even though it will be levied on some of its products.
“Sugar isn’t bad, but too much of it is, and we think the tax is a good thing if it stops the over-consumption of sugar,” says Albert Tucker who is chairman of the Karma Cola Foundation. “We always say that if you’re thirsty, you should drink water. Fizzy drinks should be a treat, not part of your regular diet – that way you will enjoy them more.”
A brand that happily advises people against consuming its products in large quantities might be rare. But for Karma Cola, it is part of a wider strategy to turn fizzy drinks – seen as one of the world’s most popular consumer products – into something positive.
“We have tried to build a business that has good karma, hence the name,” says Tucker. “Our mission is to create real drinks using real ingredients that are helping to feed small farmers in developing countries.”
Sugar isn’t bad, but too much of it is, and we think the tax is a good thing if it stops the over-consumption of sugar
Guided by the principles of the Fairtrade movement, of which Tucker was a pioneer, Karma Cola has built a business that benefits the unsung west African communities that discovered cola in the first place.
“Billions of cola drinks are consumed every day, but the people who discovered the cola nut don’t actually make any money out of it because big drinks companies no longer use it as an ingredient – they use artificial flavours instead,” says Tucker. “We were shocked to learn this and decided to do something about it.”
Having grown up in west Africa, Albert was well aware of the cultural significance of the cola nut, which is harvested from the Gola forest in Sierra Leone. In Sierra Leone, it is used in cooking, medicine and as a natural stimulant. It is also considered a symbol of friendship. “He who brings cola,” the saying goes, “brings life”.
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