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Coca-Cola Company won’t ditch stevia in the UK

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By Nicholas Robinson+

06-Aug-2014
Last updated on 07-Aug-2014 at 11:05 GMT

A backlash against stevia in the US led Coca-Cola to do a U-turn on its Vitawater recipe
A backlash against stevia in the US led Coca-Cola to do a U-turn on its Vitawater recipe

Sugar reduction campaigners have praised the Coca-Cola Company’s (CCC’s) refusal to drop the natural sweetener stevia in its Glaceau Vitaminwater in the UK, as it has done in the US.

Earlier this week, CCC announced it would ditch stevia as a sweetener for its Glaceau Vitaminwater in the US and revert to crystalline fructose and cane sugar.

The U-turn followed pressure from Vitaminwater’s US consumers on Facebook, who called for the drink to be reverted back to its original form, just months after the stevia version was rolled out in May.

Would not be reformulated

However, Vitaminwater on the UK market would not be reformulated to remove stevia, which has been used in the product since 2012, a CCC spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk.

“We have no current plans to adapt the range further in the UK,” he said.

“Our focus is on delivering great-tasting products that meet consumer demand.”

“We conducted extensive taste tests at [the UK launch of Vitaminwater], which found that people felt the new stevia-based formulations were as good or better than the existing range of drinks,” said the spokesman.

Tam Fry, advisor to the campaign group Action on Sugar and a National Obesity Forum spokesman, praised CCC’s decision to stick with stevia in the UK.

“I think that consumers in the UK are starting to say that we don’t like lots of sugar in our drinks at all,” he told FoodManufacture.co.uk.

“They will, however, stomach a certain amount of sugar in order to enjoy a drink, and that’s part of the joy.”

‘Not against sugar’

Fry, who said he was not against sugar, rather the overuse of it in some food and drinks products, previously called some food and drink companies “sugar barons” . He accused them of risking children’s health to make a profit.

CCC’s decision to leave stevia in the UK product also highlighted the stark contrast in taste preferences between UK and US consumers, claimed Fry.

“That’s the main problem with sugar reduction in the US,” he said. “They are finding it more difficult [than UK consumer] to wean themselves off sugar.

“They have been dosed-up over the years and it’s been a shock to find themselves drinking less sugar.”

Fry, who is an advocate of stevia, said the UK’s openness to it in Vitaminwater would also be beneficial for CCC when it launches its stevia-sweetened Coca-Cola Life drink this autumn.

“Coca-Cola has managed to achieve a one-third reduction in calories and sugar because of stevia,” he said.

But, the question was not whether it would be a success in the UK, rather whether it would be a success in the US, he added.

“Coca-Cola may be launching it in the UK and Europe to gauge response, but if US consumers want sugary products, will Coke Life have life there?”

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