Sandhya Pillay, General Manager, Coca-Cola Oceania

The issue of the rising obesity rate in New Zealand remains a serious concern for us all. Given the challenges it places on society as a whole, it is an issue that requires effective, sustainable, workable solutions.

The FiZZ Symposium, which was held in Auckland in June, is advocating for a ban on soft drinks by 2025. At the very least, it would like to see the introduction of taxes to encourage Kiwis to drink fewer soft drinks. However, we are already seeing Kiwis consuming fewer soft drinks each year. Despite this, obesity rates in New Zealand continue to climb. 

As a leader in the non-alcoholic beverage industry, we were grateful for the opportunity to present at the FiZZ Symposium and contribute to this important conversation.

Soft drinks are not the sole cause of the obesity problem - in fact they contribute just 1.5% of the total energy in an average New Zealand adult’s diet. It is therefore our belief that focusing on one particular food or drink is not going to provide the silver bullet that will reverse the growing obesity rate.

It’s our view you can’t tax or regulate your way to a healthy lifestyle. Kiwis should have the right to decide what the best drink choice is for them and their families and the evidence shows the majority of people are already doing just this.

At Coca-Cola we believe we have an important and undeniable responsibility to provide our consumers with information enabling them to make informed and positive decisions without limiting choice or penalising those who chose to have a treat.

We are fully aware that eating and drinking less sugar is important. Having started 35 years ago with the launch of Diet Coke, we will continue to take action by introducing new low and no sugar drinks and reducing the sugar content of our existing recipes across our entire portfolio.

After the launch of Diet Coke in 1982, our low and no-sugar Coke recipe evolution continued with Coke Zero in 2006, followed by Coke Life in 2015. And just a few weeks ago, after years of research, we launched Coca-Cola No Sugar, our next step in that evolution. Today our portfolio in New Zealand consists of over 120 products and 21 brands with all our top sellers offering a no sugar alternative

But we’re not just focused on what goes into our bottle – it’s also about what is outside the bottle. We are providing more information to people to help shape better choices for themselves. This includes investing more on raising awareness of our low and no-sugar options and promoting smaller pack sizes to encourage moderation. Our vending machines now have nutrition panels and we voluntarily put clear, easy-to-find calorie information front-of-pack so people can make informed choices.

We also have strict policies to ensure our marketing is responsible and appropriate for every possible person and place. We have endorsed and are committed to the Ministry of Health’s Healthy Kids Industry Pledge and have committed to complying with the new Advertising Standards Authority Children’s and Young Person’s Code.

Through all this, we believe Kiwis are already making positive beverage choices. Today, one third of our sales are either low or no sugar varieties. This has risen by 12 per cent in the past year and we expect to see even more growth as Kiwis make choices about how much sugar they’re consuming.

In addition, water remains the number one drink consumed in New Zealand and this is mainly tap water.

It’s our firm belief that we can tackle the issue of obesity as a nation but we have to do it together.  No one solution will provide the answer and no one sector can solve the problem. We need to put the people of New Zealand at the heart of our work and work together to find the most impactful ways to make a sustainable difference.