Executive points to failure of ‘fat tax’ in Denmark as Public Health England urges levy on sugary foods
Britain’s largest confectionery company has claimed that a levy on sweet food and drinks will not make people overhaul their diets.
Mary Barnard, who heads the UK division of the parent company of Dairy Milk maker Cadbury, said Denmark had abandoned proposals for a sugar tax after consumers circumvented a similar tax on fatty foods by buying butter and ice cream abroad.
“Denmark withdrew the sugar tax as it didn’t drive consumer change. I think the consumer has demonstrated the ability to make change [without a tax]. Can we do more on health? Yes, and we should do more, but there is also a role for treats in everyday life. I would hate to see food losing the joy that Cadbury has been about for decades,” said Barnard, president of the northern European arm of US group Mondelez International.
Barnard was speaking ahead of the publication of Thursday’s report by Public Health England urging ministers to impose a sugar tax. It also called for action on the marketing of unhealthy products to children and two-for-one deals on sugary foods in supermarkets.
A spokesman for the prime minister said David Cameron was not in favour of a tax, and believed there were other measures to drive down childhood obesity. “The prime minister’s view remains that he doesn’t see a need for a tax on sugar,” the No 10 spokesman told reporters.
The PHE report suggests a tax of up to 20% on sugary drinks and food would cut consumption. The report says a levy would tackle the obesity crisis by curbing demand for unhealthy food and drinks.
Pressure for action has increased with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s Sugar Rush campaign for a tax on sugary drinks, which has garnered more than 130,000 signatures.
Barnard said Mondelez had already taken steps to be more responsible – such as pledging that all its standard-sized “single-serving” bars would contain less than 250 calories by the end of this year.
“We have already demonstrated our responsiblity and continue to work with the government and other agencies to do more. But what I would like to see is a more level playing field … restaurants don’t provide a lot of nutritional information on their menus,” said Barnard.
The company has said it wants to be a “global leader in wellbeing snacks” – with plans for half of its products to fit within that definition by 2020 – up from a third today. A Dairy Milk bar could fit within Mondelez’s version of wellbeing – which includes products under a certain size or that use sustainably sourced ingredients such as Fairtrade chocolate.
Stricter controls on sugary products and advertisements for them would be a blow to Mondelez. The two fingers of its bestselling Twirl – the UK’s favourite chocolate bar – contain just over a quarter of the guideline daily amount of sugar. A Double Decker contains a third, not far behind one of the company’s newest concoctions – the Marvellous Creations Banana Caramel crisp bar.
Some of the company’s newest products contain less sugar and calories than their forebears – by combining biscuits with chocolate.
But one of the company’s other methods of reducing calories and prices on its chocolate products – reducing the weight of Dairy Milk bars or Roses and Heroes pack sizes, for example – has brought heavy criticism.
Barnard said it was an “urban myth” that Cadbury reduced the size of its Creme Egg – a cause for mass public outcry earlier this year after it emerged that the sweet’s outer casing was no longer made from Dairy Milk chocolate, but the “standard cocoa mix” used to coat Double Decker and Crunchie bars.
She has no regrets on the change of chocolate for Creme Egg. “In hindsight, we could have made sure we were more transparent. We tested it with consumers – going back to the chocolate we’ve used most frequently over its history – and they told us it tasted better.”
Despite health concerns, Mondelez’s chocolate sales continue to rise – by “low single digits” in the UK, even though Cadbury is market leader.
Mondelez is clearly betting that the market will not be dramatically changed by government measures. Last year, the company ploughed £75m into Bournville as it updated production lines for the first time in 30 years. That took Mondelez’s investment in UK manufacturing and research facilities to £235m over the past five years.
The company hopes its new facilities and retrained staff will help it take products that Brits enjoy – such as large Easter eggs – into new markets like Germany.
Barnard said the company was trying to adapt to changing lifestyles. “We call it scrimp and splurge. If you are going to treat yourself, you want the best. The thing you really love may be small in terms of calories, but you want it to taste fabulous. We’ll never lose that.”
Source: The Guardian