Lucozade and Ribena to halve sugar content by summer

Commercial decision has nothing to do with State tax on sugary drinks, says company

Lucozade and Ribena will strip out 50 per cent of their sugar content for the Irish market as the company evolves its products to deal with changing consumer trends – and new State taxes on sugary drinks.

Lucozade Ribena Suntory Ireland (LRSI), the local arm of the Japanese-owned company, is also planning a spring launch of Lucozade Zero, a sugar-free version of the glucose drink, a perennial favoured tonic for unwell Irish children.

It says its decision to “reformulate” from next summer the ingredients of its brands in the Irish market (Lucozade, Ribena and Orangina) was not directly spurred by the so-called sugar-tax confirmed by the Minister for Finance in last month’s budget. The levy is due to be introduced in 2018.

Rather, the company insists, the decision was taken to capitalise on growing demand from consumers for healthier alternatives.

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"You can't reformulate your brands in a few months. This development has been in the pipeline for three years, ever since Suntory bought the brands," said Cesar Vargas Martin, the company's general manager for Ireland.

“There has been a broader shift in the market,” he added, “and we are going where our consumers are telling us to go.”

Alternative sweetners

The changes were devised in Sunstory’s UK laboratory, and will be introduced across its ranges in both Britain and Ireland next July. Researchers devised recipes to replace some of the sugar with alternative sweetners without, the company says, affecting the taste of the drinks

LRSI says the new formulation will ensure that each 100ml will contain about a teaspoonful, or 4.5g, of sugar. Calories will be displayed on the front of the packs.

Lucozade Zero is already available in the UK in pink and orange flavours, but not the in original red version of the drink. The Zero version will be available across the UK and Ireland in all three flavours from next February.

Mr Vargas Martin said the company also plans to invest €5 million over the next three years on marketing campaigns to emphasis themes associated with sports and recreation.

It recently launched its “Made to Move” series on social media, but this will be expanded heavily as part of the new campaign. Part of the €5 million also will be spent on charity events and health drives involving LRSI’s staff.

Growing market

LRSI said the lower-calorie part of the soft drinks market is growing at three times the rate of the rest of the sector, leaving an obvious opportunity.

“It is true that the spotlight is on the industry due to the tax issues,” said Mr Vargas Martin. “But consumers want this too. We want to be part of the solution.”

He described the upcoming launch of Lucozade Zero as the company’s “big bet” in the Irish market.

LRSI sais retail sales of its three brands in the Irish market total about €110 million annually, with Lucozade responsible for up to 60 per cent. The Irish company’s revenues last year were €38 million, according to its accounts.

LRSI employs about 45 staff directly. Another 55 are employed by contractors, selling its brands in the Irish market.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is Business Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Caveat column