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Chocolate and candy tax proposed in the UK

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By Oliver Nieburg+

12-May-2017
Last updated on 12-May-2017 at 11:37 GMT2017-05-12T11:37:50Z

 Action on Sugar calls to extend UK sugar tax to confectionery ©iStock/karandaev
Action on Sugar calls to extend UK sugar tax to confectionery ©iStock/karandaev

Pressure group Action on Sugar is urging the UK government to expand a sugar tax on soft drinks to chocolate and sweet confectionery – a move seen as “punitive” and "discriminatory” by industry bodies.

The public health lobby group urges a minimum 20% levy on chocolate and sweet confectionery to tackle obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

It forms part of the group’s six-point manifesto to combat obesity.

‘We are not consuming them as treats’

"The soft drink tax has really sped up the process of reformulation with many big soft drinks brands, which is a very positive thing for public health,” registered nutritionist Jenny Rosborough, campaign manager at Action on Sugar, told ConfectioneryNews.

"Today we are focusing on confectionery because there is no nutritional value. It is not recommended as part of a healthy diet and it is one of the biggest contributors to sugar in our diet....We are not consuming them as treats,” she said.

Voluntary guidance: Sugar reduction and portion sizes

US industry view

©iStock/dolgachov

The US National Confectioners Association (NCA) president wrote in a ConfectioneryNews guest column last year that Americans embrace moderation in confectionery, consuming it on average twice per week, averaging less than 50 calories per day, about one teaspoon of added sugar per day. He added there was little public support for policy measures targetting chocolate, candy and gum.

Confectionery escaped a UK tax on sugary drinks  introduced last year.

Government body Public Health England (PHE) proposed voluntary sugar reduction targets and portion size guidance  for nine food categories including chocolate and sugar confectionery in March this year.

PHE urges chocolate and sugar confectionery brands to reduce portion sizes in a bid to cut 20% of sugar content by 2020.

A spokesperson for industry group the Food and Drink Federation (FDF)– whose members include Mars, Nestlé and Mondelēz – said PHE’s guidelines meant confectionery manufacturers were already working with government to reformulate.

“We believe it is wrong in principle to single out individual nutrients or product categories for punitive treatment and therefore oppose all additional food taxes including the soft drinks industry levy.

“There is no evidence that the levy will make any lasting or significant difference to obesity,” they said.

PHE guidance ‘not a strong enough incentive' to reformulate

Election impact

©iStock/AlisaRut

The UK will hold a general election on June 8, 2017. The Conservatives are odds-on favourites to win the most Parliamentary seats ahead of Labour, according to gambling firm Betfair.

Action on Sugar’s Rosborough said: "The Conservative government supported the soft drinks tax so there's no reason why they shouldn’t support this tax. And Labour has been quite outspoken about making UK children the healthiest children in the world, so they are going to have to implement all of the measures on our obesity manifesto."

Action on Sugar’s Rosborough, argued PHE’s were only voluntary.

“It is not a strong enough incentive [to reformulate],” she said. “We've seen success with the soft drinks tax already, so we know it would escalate progress if manufacturers has an incentive."

She added any reformulation driven by PHE guidelines would be by 2020 and argued the public health concern warranted immediate attention.

FDF said when the PHE guidelines were announced a 20% sugar reduction by 2020 was not “technically possible”. 

"If they said that just before the guidelines were released then it's a bit of a poor start to the program. That's why we're looking at other ways,” said Rosborough.

Nestlé: 'No clear evidence' selective taxes comabt obesity

CEO of Nestlé UK & Ireland, Fiona Kendrick, said Nestlé supports the PHE guidance . She said the plan was "ambitious and challenging", but said Nestlé was working towards 20% sugar reduction by 2020.

A Nestlé spokesperson told us: “We have reservations about selective taxes on food and beverage products as there is currently no clear evidence that they are effective in combatting obesity. We see them as narrow tool to address these critical public health concerns."

They said Nestlé would follow the public health outcomes of such taxes and would be informed by expert studies. 

Rosborough said it may take time to build public support for a confectionery tax, but said the intention was not to increase prices for beloved treats, but to encourage manufactures to offer slightly healthier versions on shelves.

Action on Sugar may consider calling for a tax on other sugared foods in future, she added.

Confectionery as a source of sugar

Data from the UK’s 2012-14 National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) suggests chocolate confectionery is the third biggest contributor to total sugar intakes among children aged 11-18, behind soft drinks and fruit juice & smoothies.

Contribution of total sugars in the diet

Category

Children aged 4-10 years (%)

Children aged 11-18 years (%)

Adults aged 19-64 years (%)

Chocolate confectionery

5

7

5

Sweet confectionery

4

4

1

Marketing restictions

Action on Sugar proposes restrictions on marketing in conjunction with a confectionery tax. It would like a 9pm watershed on TV advertising on products high in sugar, salt and saturated fat that don't meet UK government nutrient profiles, which would include most confectionery. The lobby group hopes only healthier foods will be promoted in the longer term.

"It's not about not having these foods there, but when we are constantly influenced to choose them through marketing or price promotions, it's not helpful," said Rosborough.

Source: 2012-14 National Diet and Nutrition Survey  (NDNS)

A Public Health England paper from 2015 said taxes on sugar sweetened drinks in Norway, Finland, Hungary, France and Mexico led to decreased purchases of up to 12%, according to sales data.

CAOBISCO: ‘Discriminatory and punitive’

A spokesperson for European trade body the Association of Chocolate, Biscuits and Confectionery (CAOBISCO) said actions such as education about product composition, balanced diets and healthy lifestyles are more efficient than “discriminatory and punitive measures” like the proposed tax.

“They wrongly narrowly focus the burden of the obesity problem and related non-communicable diseases on a single nutrient or product category,” they said, adding fiscal measures can harm SMEs, local economies and consumer purchasing power.

CAOBISCO favors companies taking individual actions to address obesity concerns by implementing one or more of its five voluntary Menu of Options :

  • Product composition: Innovation and product formulation
  • Mindful eating: Product design and portion sizes
  • Consumer information: Clear, fact-based nutrition information
  • Responsible advertising and marketing to children
  • Promotion of healthy lifestyles
Which sweets?

©iStock/Cio18

Action on Sugar is proposing a tax on chocolate confectionery (chocolate bars, filled bars, assortments, carob, diabetic, low calorie and seasonal chocolate) and sweet confectionery (all candy, excluding sugar free sweets and chewing gum). It uses Public Health England’s definitions of chocolate and sweet confectionery.

The proposal would cover all confectionery produced by manufacturers and retailers, including those products sold in coffee shops and restaurants, which Action on Sugar claims often contain the highest amount of sugar and calories. It says tax revenues should go towards public health efforts.

Background reading...
Usual suspects: Confectionery may be next victim of national sugar taxes (22-Mar-2016)
Tax on sugary drinks may be extended after review (28-Apr-2017)

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