Lithuania's Ministry of Health had been considering introducing a sugar tax but said this voluntary agreement, signed last week by both multinational and domestic manufacturers, could replace taxation if followed by industry.
"In order to balance nutrition of population, it is necessary to improve food products supplied to the market," reads the agreement.
However, only 10 companies have signed up so far and the agreement allows manufacturers to opt out at any time.
'An alternative to taxes'
Director of Maisto, the association that represents the interests of Lithuanian food and drink manufacturers, Irma Pilipiene told FoodNavigator she saw the agreement “as an alternative measure to sugar taxes” in order to avoid such taxes.
“We encourage all companies to join [and] we are glad to have the support from Minister of Heath in this question,” she added.
The agreement cited research carried out in Lithuania, which shows Lithuanians' average daily intake of the targeted nutrients to be well over the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended levels: 40% for salt, 39% for fats including 29% for saturated fat and 22% higher than the recommended sugars intake.
“Such high intake rate of these substances cause harm to health, induce cardiovascular diseases (hypertension, infarct, stroke), cancer, diabetes mellitus, obesity, and other diseases," reads the agreement.
“The public authorities and business companies, both have the duty to promote healthy life style and consumption of less products that have negative impact on health.”
Different targets and deadlines
Orkla Foods Lithuania promised to remove added sugar from its flakes, cereals, ready-made porridge and bars, and to reduce sugar and salt in ketchup by 30% and 35% in 2018.
Mars said it would reduce salt in its portfolio by 20% by 2021. For chocolate products, it promised less saturated fat and smaller portion sizes. Nestle Baltics said it would reduce sugar in all products by 5% and salt and saturated fat by 10%.
Meanwhile, Coca-Cola Lithuania and Coca-Cola Baltics pledged to reduce the sugar content in all soft drinks by 15% by 2020, and Fazer Lithuania said it would reduce sugar and salt in all bread products by 5 and 10% respectively by 2020.
The Lithuanian branch of German fruit juice manufacturer Eckes-Granini pledged to reduce sugar by 10% in seven nectars and seven juice products by the end of 2018.
Other companies include vegetable sauce manufacturer Kėdainių Konservų Fabrikas; Lithuanian confectionery and snack bar brand Ruta; flour and baked goods manufacturer Malsena, which has pledged to cut sugar and salt; and Vilniaus margarine manufacturer.
Companies will report on their progress to the Ministry of Health.