RTD beverages present ‘double burden to health’

By Alice Leader contact

- Last updated on GMT

Sugar fears: health experts call for ‘ready to drink’ alcoholic beverages to be reduced in sugar and calories
Sugar fears: health experts call for ‘ready to drink’ alcoholic beverages to be reduced in sugar and calories

Related tags: Health, Rtd, Alcoholic beverage

Popular sugary alcoholic drinks are a ‘double burden’ on consumers’ health because of their alcohol and sugar content, coupled with the huge cash onus placed on the NHS, according to new research.

A new product survey by Action on Sugar at Queen Mary University of London to mark Sugar Awareness Week claimed ready-to-drink (RTD) pre-mixed spirits and cocktails are extremely high in hidden sugar and calories, yet nine out of 10 pre-mixed spirits do not include on-pack sugar information.

However, there is currently no mandatory requirement to display nutritional information on alcoholic drinks products, therefore, the group of experts is calling for immediate reform to the agreed criterion set by Government in the soft drinks industry levy (SDIL) or pay a fine.

Gaps in the law

Action on Sugar registered nutritionist Holly Gabriel says: “This is the first time a survey of this kind has been conducted and the results highlight an immediate need for alcoholic drinks to be included in vital public health policies.

“Customers should be able to purchase better options and reformulating these drinks with less sugar, calories and alcohol is one way to achieve this.

“Our survey clearly shows that similar drinks can be made with less sugar and calories, yet drink manufacturers are failing to take the appropriate action.

“Urgent attention is required from the Government to ensure that gaps in the law do not contribute to the rise in obesity and related health conditions, as well as alcohol harm.”

The SDIL was successful in reducing sugar in drinks such as lemonade, but a vodka and lemonade is exempt, which critics argue is absurd.

Excess alcohol consumption is generally known to be harmful but the group of experts has warned that sugary alcoholic drinks are contributing to obesity, type 2 diabetes, various cancers, liver damage and tooth decay.

A national scandal

Professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar Graham MacGregor said: “Sugary, alcoholic drinks are a double burden on our health: alcohol causes serious harm, and sugar in these drinks carries the same health risks as sugar in any other food or drink, which costs the NHS billions and shortens lives.

“It is a national scandal that because these drinks contain alcohol, they are not subject to the sugar tax or any form of coherent nutrition labelling. The new Government needs to act now by taking control of the alcohol industry and stop them from exploiting vulnerable young adults.”

Action on Sugar surveyed a total of 202 RTD alcoholic beverages sold in-store and online.​ Out of the 154 products collected in-store, nutrition information on pack was allegedly scant, making it difficult for consumers to know exactly what they are drinking.

The survey found only 63 products (41%) in-store had some form of nutrition information on pack and only 14 products (9%) had ‘sugar’ information on pack. This, in turn, causes concern as some beverages contain a whopping nine teaspoons of sugar in just 250ml.

To mark Sugar Awareness Week (20-26 January), Action on Sugar is calling on the new Government to ensure that all alcoholic drinks are included in vital public health policies to reduce obesity and ill health and tackle the issue.

Key findings

Due to the lack of information provided on pack (in-store), Action on Sugar commissioned independent laboratory analysis of 21 products (in addition to the information available on pack and on drink manufacturers’ websites), which it claims has exposed the alarming variation of sugar and calories to the public.

Traditional pre-mixed cocktails

Table 1 showing the three highest and three lowest in sugar beverages per pack

Product Name

Pack
 size (ml)

ABV (%)

Calories per pack (kcal)

Sugars per
 pack (g)

Teaspoons of sugar per pack

TGI Fridays Passion Fruit Martini**

500

10.0

325

49.1

12

TGI Fridays Pink Punk Mojito**

500

10.0

330

46.7

12

Tesco Strawberry Daiquiri Alcoholic Frozen Sorbet***

250

4.0

228

36

9

Funkin Nitro Cocktails Passion Fruit Martini**

200

5.0

N/A

16.7

4

All Shook Up Espresso Martini**

250

4.5

N/A

16.5

4

House Of Cocktails Strawberry Daiquiri**

250

4.0

N/A

12.6

3

Fruit-based mixed drinks

Table 2 showing the three highest and three lowest in sugar beverages per pack

Product Name

Pack
 size (ml)

ABV (%)

Calories per pack (kcal)

Sugars
 per
 pack (g)

Teaspoons of sugar per pack

WKD Blue**

700

4.0

N/A

59

15

VK Blue**

700

4.0

N/A

52.4

13

Hooch Alcoholic Lemon Brew**

500

4.0

N/A

28.9

7

Kopparberg Light With Passionfruit*

250

4.0

83

6.2

2

Balans Mandarin Aqua Spritz*

250

4.0

60

1.5

0

Balans Lime Aqua Spritz*

250

4.0

58

0.5

0

Spirit/liqueur and mixer drinks (excluding gin)

Table 3 showing the three highest and three lowest in sugar beverages per pack

Product Name

Pack
 size (ml)

ABV (%)

Calories per pack (kcal)

Sugars
 per pack (g)

Teaspoons of sugar per pack

Archers Schnapps & Lemonade***

250

5.4

215

33

8

Malibu Cola**

250

5.0

N/A

32.3

8

Goslings Dark 'N Stormy Black Seal Rum and Ginger Beer*

250

4.5

198

31.3

8

Asda Vodka, Lime & Lemonade**

250

4.0

N/A

12

3

Tesco Triple Distilled Vodka With Lime and Lemonade**

250

5.0

73

0

0

Jack Daniel’s & no sugar Cola **

330

5.0

N/A

0

0

Gin and mixers

Table 4 showing the three highest and three lowest in sugar beverages per pack

Product Name

Pack
 size

ABV (%)

Calories per pack (kcal)

Sugars per
 pack (g)

Teaspoons of sugar per pack

Classic Combinations Pink Gin and Tonic*

250

4.0

178

27

7

Classic Combinations Rhubarb Gin and Ginger Ale*

250

4.0

155

20.8

5

Tanqueray Sevilla Gin and Tonic*

275

6.5

190

18

5

Sipsmith London Dry Gin and Light Tonic*

250

7.3

118

3.3

1

Classic Combination Gin and Diet Tonic*

250

4.0

73

0

0

Alfie Gin & Diet Tonic*

250

4.0

60

0

0

Dental Wellness Trust charity doctor Saul Konviser said: "It’s truly shocking that these popular RTD pre-mixed spirits are packed with excessive sugar and hidden calories and it’s no wonder the UK has a tooth decay crisis on its hands. 

“Good oral health is a basic human right yet, for some reason, drink manufacturers are being allowed to peddle these unhealthy drinks with limited nutritional information on pack. It’s ludicrous that drinks such as lemonade are subject to the sugar tax yet a vodka and lemonade is exempt. Now is the time for tough Government-led action to protect this human right.”

Related topics: Ready to Drink

Related news

Show more

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more

FREE EMAIL NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to The Morning Advertiser

The definitive voice for the pub trade

Get the latest news, analysis and insights from the uk pub sector straight to your inbox!

Listen to The MA Podcast