SINGAPORE: Manufacturers of pre-packaged sugar-sweetened drinks said they support measures announced by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Thursday (Oct 10) to reduce consumers' intake of sugar.
Seven major players - Coca-Cola, F&N Foods, Malaysia Dairy Industries (MDI), Nestle, PepsiCo, Pokka and Yeo Hiap Seng - had already pledged in 2017 to reduce the sugar content in all their drinks sold in Singapore to a maximum of 12 per cent by 2020.
These manufacturers make up 70 per cent of Singapore's pre-packaged sugar-sweetened drinks market.
Coca-Cola, for instance, said more than 60 per cent of its drinks here have the Health Promotion Board's Healthier Choice Symbol, which is awarded to beverages that contain about three teaspoons of sugar per 250ml.
“We have been innovating to launch new lower-sugar and no-sugar drinks," said Mr Ahmed Yehia, country manager for Coca-Cola Singapore and Malaysia.
“We will continue to rethink many of our recipes in Singapore to reduce sugar, because while sugar in moderation is fine, we agree that too much of it is not good for anyone."
As part of Singapore's war on diabetes, MOH on Thursday announced that a new colour-coded “front-of-pack” nutrition label will be made mandatory for pre-packaged beverages that are high in sugar.
Each beverage will be assigned a summary grade based on its nutritional quality, where sugar content will be the main but not the only determinant. Factors like the amount of fat and trans-fat in the drink will also be taken into account.
The label will apply to all pre-packaged sugar-sweetened beverages, including soft drinks, energy drinks, juices, malted drinks, flavoured milk and cultured milk drinks.
A total ban on advertising across all media channels will also be imposed on beverages that are deemed the most unhealthy and graded the lowest on the nutrition labelling scale.
MANY DRINKS ALREADY HAVE HEALTHIER CHOICE SYMBOL
Deputy CEO of Pokka International Daniel Teo said that the brand does not have “severe concerns” about the new measures. Just over 50 per cent of its products qualify for the Healthier Choice Symbol, including most of its top selling products.
“As for the other products, we continue to have our R&D team review them to reformulate where possible. Some are more challenging as in natural fruit sugars that is found in all juices from all brands,” said Mr Teo.
Ms Jennifer See, managing director of Singapore and YFI Malaysia, F&N Foods, said its Healthier Choice products make up 80 per cent of their drink sales in Singapore.
“We are supportive of providing nutrient information on the packaging to allow consumers to make informed food choices based on their individual diet requirements,” she added.
Coca-Cola, as well as MDI, which produces the Marigold and Vitagen brands, both said they have met MOH guidelines to reduce sugar content in their drinks to no more than 12 per cent, ahead of the 2020 deadline.
A PepsiCo spokesman said the brand has made “significant progress” on its drink portfolio, and is on track to meet the 2020 deadline.
“We support the provision of clear labeling information to assist consumers in making informed choices. PepsiCo looks forward to further consultation on these measures to ensure they are practical, implementable and that they support the goal of improving public health,” added the spokesman.
NEED TO MONITOR LABELLING OF PRODUCTS
The Singapore Food Manufacturers Association (SFMA) noted that as more evidence links metabolic disease and diabetes to the overconsumption of calories, consumers are shying away from food products that are high in sugar.
“So as a part of addressing the shifting global consumer behaviour to lower calories and (produce) healthier food products, local food manufacturers under the SFMA umbrella find it essential to reformulate in order to ride this wave of growth through product innovation by improving the nutritional value and reducing the caloric value,” said its director of commerce Jonathan Cheah.
However, he raised concerns about how the new label requirement could lead to having different product labelling for different markets.
“If it is not aligned with their countries guidelines, manufacturers might need to produce another type of packaging for overseas exports, which adds up to costs,” Dr Cheah said.
“And some products are very small, they might not have space to put the label on their primary packaging. They still need to add barcodes, nutrition information, allergen advice and so on.”
Dr Cheah added that there is also a need monitor the import of drinks from overseas that do not have the necessary labels.
Speaking to reporters at the Singapore Health and Biomedical Congress on Thursday, Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong stressed that MOH will work with the industry to make sure that the new measures are sustainable.
He added that the authorities also did not want to impose a timeline on manufacturers and the advertising industry in case they could not deliver on targets.
“My sense is that on the packaging, industry players are very keen to make sure that they don’t end up on the lower end of the spectrum. And to that extent, I think it’ll be effective in driving reformulation, together with incentives and grants that we will continue to have in working with them,” said Mr Tong.
“I think the industry knows that in the longer term, high sugar content products are not going to be sustainable. The market will soon shift, if it’s not already gradually shifting.”