Will the UK Sugar Tax Curb Cravings?

Niraj Sharma |
 08/27/18 |
3 min read

With rising levels of obesity and tooth decay, the UK added a sugar tax to soft drinks, making the fizzy beverages more expensive, by degrees, based on their sugar levels. But beyond making consumers angry, will this actually curb cravings? It’s certainly created some opportunities for savvy sugar-free options. We’ll explore both through a social listening lens below!

Minimal Impact, But Lots of Aggravation

According to Nielsen, the sugar tax has had a minimal impact on consumers since it launched in April: “The first four months of the UK’s sugar tax has failed to create any significant change in consumer behaviour; but it has encouraged widespread reformulation and the proliferation of lower sugar options.”

And it’s also encouraged some pretty negative sentiment around it:

And how is the sugar tax “messing up drinks,” exactly? Influential comedian Mo Gilligan is letting the world know!

Why should retailers care? Well, Coca-Cola may want to take note, as Mo Gilligan apparently is fond of Fanta, a Coca-Cola product (which is naturally fruit flavored and not affected by the sugar tax). As Pepsi’s subsidiary, Mirinda, is a favorite as well (and competitor of Fanta):

Beyond the fun of a potential fruit drink war powered by comedians, there’s a very real push to repeal the sugar tax, as lots of people really, really don’t like being told what they can/can’t eat and drink.

The People Against the Sugar Tax have created a grassroots movement to reverse the “bizarre” tax levied by the “food nannies” and supported by “the anti-sugar establishment. Well-funded anti-sugar campaigners [who] have the ear of our MPs in Parliament. They get blanket coverage in the national media almost every other week, and their relentless demands on sugar is leading to less and less choice for ordinary people.”

Both sugary sodas and naturally fruit-flavored (tax free) options would do well to follow this blame game closely and explore a variety of business development avenues:

  • Develop a campaign where a manufacturer doubles down and keeps its expensive, and sugary offering as a drink “for the people.” Get the @AgainstSugarTax folks to help spread the word.
  • Partner with influencers to help make light of the situation (like the comedian mentioned above) and showcase creative options people have found to get around the tax, with different drink mixes or even wild concoctions. A concoction contest perhaps?
  • Or potentially create drink options that speak to consumers’ frustration. The “Blamie Jamie” drink would likely grab some attention, as that popular chef and restauranteur has inserted himself into the debate, having been quite vocal about his support of the sugar tax. In fact, he’s proposed expanding it!

The ‘Tax For Love’ That People Hate

The sugar tax doesn’t cover drinks with high milk content . . . yet. That may change, thanks, in part, to Mr. Oliver.

“Mr. Oliver urged ministers to go further this time, as he described the sugar tax as a ‘fantastic policy’ suggesting it should be extended to cover sugary dairy drinks. Critics have suggested such taxes unfairly hit the poor. But the chef and food campaigner said the use of the funds – to pay for sports facilities and healthy eating clubs – meant it benefited deprived areas.
‘This a tax for good; this is a tax for love; this is designed to protect and give to the most disadvantaged communities,’ he told MPs.”


Not too long after this testimony, Oliver sent the web into a cultural appropriation tizzy over his “jerk rice” recipe that wasn’t, and giving people reason to dislike him even more:

Which shows us why it’s not always wise to insert yourself in politics, even when you’re a chef and it involves food!

But his thoughts seem to be in line with at least part of the population, as it appears misery loves company. Those burdened by this tax apparently want to spread the love as well, though THEY intend to keep ingesting sugar themselves.

Wonder if Mr. Oliver has gone sugar-free in his recipes? Maybe not. And maybe they (everyone involved) should just let the people eat cake if they want.

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Related posts:

Reading The Social Sentiment Tea Leaves, Proceed With Caution
Social Media Survey 2018: How EU Brands Use Social Listening


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