Ribena-Gate Is Lifting The Lid On Sweet Drinks. What Next?

Well, how odd was that? Yesterday the London Blog called for the big four supermarkets to do something to make their brands stand out and give them some meaning. Then later the same day, "Ribena-gate" breaks. Tesco hit the headlines instantly for announcing it would cease stocking lunchbox-size Ribena and Capri Sun drinks because they were high in sugar. By the end of the day, only Asda had not come out with a statement confirming that the small drinks cartons would no longer be sold.

It's funny. In motoring, the government has taken strong measures to encourage more efficient cars. Tax bands are tagged to emissions levels, grants are given for electric cars and local authorities have made provisions for parking meters with charge points. Governments around the world have effectively taxed the motorist until manufacturers are forced to offer more tax efficient, lower-emission cars, including electric and hybrid models that are taking the market by storm.

In food, we have a very different situation. Labeling initiatives are not aligned, and I can speak for the colour-blind community here -- colour coding is always confusing. What's wrong with a tick, a question mark and a cross for yes, maybe and no? Not only are they confusing but they clutter up the box too, meaning they are often so small you need to have young eyes to read them.

Which brings us on to childhood obesity. I was chatting with an academic just the other day about how issues get to a point where governments have to step in and make a stand, such as with CO2 emissions, mobile phone use in cars, drink driving, noise levels, smoking and so on. He was startled that more had not been done yet with food, particularly around children with junk food and sweet drinks. Then, hey presto! Ribena-gate breaks and I can assure you there is now no going back.

Nothing will encourage drinks makers to produce healthier beverages for children's lunchboxes more than the largest supermarket refusing to stock them. Not just because that means you cannot sell to Tesco's customers, but because rivals are sure to follow and you won't be able to sell to them either. No bigger step has ever been taken to tackle childhood obesity by a supermarket than this. No single act will have greater ramifications.

So just as with motoring, there may be some pain points. People who love Ribena or Capri Sun in their lunchbox may struggle for a month or two until the makers bring in less sugary versions -- but you can bet your bottom dollar these drinks are being formulated right now. These companies just cannot survive with a boycott from the large supermarkets.

Now let's just tackle the stupid people. By that, I mean people on Twitter who can't spell and don't know how to make a coherent argument. The big question of the day was why Coke wasn't being banned. The very simple answer is, if they put it in a small carton for lunchboxes it almost certainly would have been. Tesco's action was directed squarely at lunchbox drinks and was obviously announced at a time when the kids are on holiday and it would impact them less and give the manufacturers a month to get some low-sugar versions available for the return to school in September. 

Coke and cigarettes, and anything else you can name on a Twitter rant, was not included because they are not specifically pre-designed for children's lunchboxes.

The interesting part is that this has now lifted a lid. Just as tax breaks for cars under a certain level of emissions has seen people flock to those models, which manufacturer do you think would now ever make a highly sugared drinks carton designed for lunchboxes? Where this will end is another interesting point. Snacks? Cakes? Sweets? I'm not sure but in the absence of any strong government line we can now rest assured Tesco and other supermarkets have now set a precedent that the best way to get stocked is to ensure you're not a contributor to childhood obesity. 

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