Sugar tax war: Tesco, Asda and Morrisons gear up for soft drinks battle ahead of Friday’s levy

Tesco, Asda and Morrisons have all reduced the amount of sugar in their own-label soft drinks prior to the introduction of the so-called “sugar tax” this week.

The soft drinks industry levy, dubbed the “sugar tax”, came into effect on Friday, with the money raised – an estimated £520m per year – being spent on funding sport in primary schools.

Sugar wars

Tesco, Asda and Morrisons, which comprise three of the UK’s “Big Four” supermarkets, have all reformulated their own-brand soft drinks, reducing the sugar content of these products so they fall beneath the threshold for the levy – one of the policy’s key objective.

The supermarkets revealed separately that they had cut the amount of sugar in their own-brand soft drinks to below 5g of sugar per 100ml, with Tesco declaring on Tuesday it was “the first retailer” to achieve this feat.

Asda disputed Tesco’s claim, though, with a spokesman insisting this was “not true”, and had done the same. And a spokesman for Morrisons also confirmed “all Morrisons branded drinks are under the threshold and will, therefore, be unaffected by the upcoming sugar tax”.

What is the sugar tax?

In March 2016 the then Chancellor George Osborne announced that a tax on sugary soft drinks would be implemented this year. The levy, aimed at combating childhood obesity diabetes, will be imposed on companies according to the volume of the sugar-sweetened drinks they produce or import. There will be two bands – one for soft drinks with more than 5g of sugar per 100ml and a higher one for drinks with more than 8g per 100ml.

Which kinds of drinks will be liable?

A drink is liable if it meets all the following conditions: It has a content of 1.2% alcohol by volume or less It’s either ready to drink, or to be drunk it must be diluted with water, mixed with crushed ice or processed to make crushed ice, mixed with carbon dioxide or a combination of thes It’s packaged ready for sale It has had sugar added during production, including pure cane sugars like sucrose and glucose as well as substances (other than fruit juice, vegetable juice and milk) that contain sugar, such as honey It contains at least 5g of sugar per 100ml in its ready-to-drink or diluted form.

Sainsbury’s playing catch-up

The last of the “Big Four” supermarkets, Sainsbury’s, admitted it has not yet reduced the quantity of sugar in all its own-label soft drinks so as to fall beneath the sugar tax threshold.

The grocer does claim to have removed 2,267 tonnes of sugar from its own-brand soft drinks since 2014, though.

A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman denied the supermarket was being slow to follow the others. “We’re not,” the spokeswoman said, “we’ve just taken a different approach.”

Which drinks are exempt from the sugar tax?

A drink is exempt if it meets one of the following conditions: It contains at least 75% milk It’s a milk-substitute which contains at least 120mg of calcium per 100ml, for example soya or almond milk It’s an alcohol replacement drink, for example de-alcoholised beer or wine It’s infant formula, follow-on formula, baby food, formulated food intended as a total diet replacement or dietary food used for special medical purposes.