Coca-Cola insists it is the real thing when it comes to tackling obesity

Coca-Cola’s UK and Ireland general manager is adamant that the company is playing its part in the fight against obesity

Jon Woods: “We operate in 206 markets around the world. Basically everywhere bar Cuba and North Korea.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Jon Woods: “We operate in 206 markets around the world. Basically everywhere bar Cuba and North Korea.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Fri, Jul 4, 2014, 01:00

Jon Woods, Coca-Cola’s UK and Ireland general manager, believes the soft drinks giant can help fight obesity.

The Department of Health secretary general, on the other hand, believes Coke is part of the problem. Ambrose McLoughlin says one of the ways Ireland could tackle obesity would be to restrict availability of so-called “top shelf” items such as fizzy drinks, which are not necessary for human health. He says there is “significant evidence” that fizzy drinks contribute to childhood obesity.

Sitting in the boardroom of the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin, Woods does not shy away from the topic. Indeed, he is eager to talk about it. He believes obesity is a serious problem. However, he does not accept that soft drinks are to blame.

“Obesity is a problem is Ireland. It costs the HSE over €1 billion per year. We are often front and centre of the obesity conversation and whose fault it is,” he say, before adding that “just 3 per cent of the daily intake of calories of Irish people comes from soft drinks”.

The Northern Irishman is adamant that Coca-Cola is playing its part in the fight against obesity.

“We don’t stand by and let the obesity epidemic happen around us. We launched diet coke 30 years ago when people were first thinking about weight.

“We are clear about what’s in our products. We are reformulating to take calories out. We said we wouldn’t market our product to under-12s, and we said we’d get more people active. We don’t buy advertising on TV where more than 35 per cent of the audience is under 12.

The company is also investing €2 million over the next three years in Dublin Bikes “to get more people active”.

We are investing €3 million in bike schemes in Cork, Limerick and Galway.”

As part of that sponsorship deal the number of Dublin bikes will treble to 1,500, and the scheme will be rebranded as Coca-Cola Zero Dublin bikes. The deal also means there will be 100 docking stations by the end of the summer.

The public bike schemes for the cities of Cork, Limerick and Galway will be launched this autumn, with Cork receiving 320 bikes, 31 station and 635 stands. Limerick will receive 215 bikes, 23 stations and 445 stands, while Galway will get 205 bikes, 19 stations and 395 stands.

The company has already relaunched Sprite in Ireland with 30 per cent less sugar after switching to using a natural zero-calorie sweetener made from the stevia plant. That has reduced calories. It has also launched a smaller 330ml bottle in Ireland.

“Over the next three years we will reduce the calories in our soft drinks by 5 per cent – that is our commitment in Ireland.”

Woods says it is a challenge taking calories out without changing the taste.

“The drinks have to taste great still. We are good at creating low and no-calorie versions of regular products.”

Strong appeal

“Coca-Cola Life is the first Coke available with the natural sweetener Stevia. We’ll see how it goes in the UK (before launching in Ireland). The research in Great Britain shows that if we can provide Coke with 30 per cent less sugar and sweeteners from natural sources then that has quite a strong appeal.”

So what does Woods have to say about the artificial sweetener aspartame, its clouded past and its use in Diet Coke.

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