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April 5, 2018updated 06 Apr 2018 7:18am

UK sugary drink tax: Here’s how much more customers will pay

By Jack Rear

In an effort to combat obesity, UK authorities announced a sugary drink tax in 2016. This was then reconfirmed in 2017.

The sugary drink tax will go into effect tomorrow.

The funds raised by the tax will be given to the Department of Education to provide additional funding for sporting activities in schools. At the initial announcement UK chancellor Phillip Hammond said the tax would raise around £1 billion for the Department of Education.

The exact amount of money the tax will raise could be lower than previous estimates. This is due to the fact that some drinks manufacturers have changed their recipes to avoid the tax. After publishing our article about surprising sugary snacks we were informed that Ribena has recently cut the amount of sugar in their drinks, perhaps to avoid further taxation.

How does the sugary drink tax work?

The exact workings of the tax are extremely convoluted to the point that some critics say the tax will be ineffective in combating obesity at all.

Simply put, there are two new levies being applied to sugary soft drinks. These are:

  • 18p per litre on drinks that have a total sugar content of more than 5g and less than 8g per 100ml
  • 24p per litre on drinks that have a total sugar content of 8g or more per 100ml

However, there are also numerous exceptions. The following drinks are exempt from the tax:

  • Drinks that are at least 75% milk
  • Milk replacements like almond or soya milk
  • Alcohol-free drinks such as alcohol-free wines and beers
  • Drinks made with fruit juice that don’t have any added sugar
  • Liquid drink flavourings like those used in cocktail purees or added to coffee
  • Drinks sold as powder
  • Mixed drinks served in an open container such as mocktails
  • Baby formula
  • Diet drinks

There are also rules about what counts as sugar. The following chemical compositions are classed as sugar: sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose and galactose. However, chemical sweeteners such as stevia, aspartame, sucralose and erythritol are exempt. This means while original Coca Cola will be taxed, Diet Coke will not be taxed as it uses aspartame.

The levy is paid by the customer if the drink is being sold in the UK. If the drink is packaged in the UK then sold abroad, the packager pays the levy.

How much extra will customers pay for drinks?

As a result of these various new levies, some popular drinks will end up costing a lot more for UK customers.

Here’s how much some of those drinks will cost after the tax according to Government regulations.

We’ve also rounded up the approximate of the tax levy to the nearest whole pence.

Drinks affected by the 24 pence levy:

Most of the UK’s most popular sugary drinks that will be affected by the levy contain over 8g of sugar per 100ml. That means they’ll be affected by the 24 pence levy. These are:

  • Coca Cola
  • Fever Tree Indian tonic water
  • Pepsi
  • Red Bull
  • Monster
  • Orangina
  • Appletiser
  • Mountain Dew

How much does the levy work out at per drink?

Drink size: Sugar tax levy: Average price pre-sugar tax: Average price post-sugar tax:
Mini-can (150ml) 4p 45p 49p
Standard can (330ml) 8p 52p 60p
Standard bottle (500ml) 12p £1.23 £1.35
Big bottle (1L) 24p £1.75 £1.99
Family bottle (2L) 48p £2.00 £2.48

Drinks affected by the 18 pence levy:

Only two of the popular drinks we examined will actually be affected by the smaller tax levy of 18 pence. Both were lemonades with over 5g of sugar per 100ml but less than 8g per 100ml. These are:

  • Schweppes Lemonade
  • R White’s Lemonade
Drink size: Sugar tax levy: Average price pre-sugar tax: Average price post sugar tax:
Standard can (330ml) 6p 50p 56p
Family bottle (2L) 36p £1.30 £1.66


Sugary drinks which are exempt:

In preparation for the tax, quite a few popular sugary drinks have reformulated their recipes to avoid being taxed. These are:

  • Fanta – 4.6g of sugar per 100ml
  • Ribena – 4.6g of sugar per 100ml
  • Sprite – 3.3g of sugar per 100ml
  • Irn Bru – 4.7g of sugar per 100ml
  • Vimto – 4.7g of sugar per 100ml
  • Lucozade Original – 4.5g of sugar per 100ml
  • Lilt – 4.6g of sugar per 100ml
  • Dr Pepper – 4.9g of sugar per 100ml
  • Rubicon Mango: 4.5g of sugar per 100ml
  • Old Jamaica Ginger Beer: 4.9g of sugar per 100ml

Jonathan Davison, a consumer analyst at GlobalData tells Verdict:

“For two years soft drinks companies have debated whether to reformulate their products and jeopardise consumer loyalty, or change nothing but risk pricing consumers away. The most effective strategy was in fact to do both: appease the loyal fans of core brands like Coca-Cola, for whom taste is everything, by keeping ingredients the same – whilst offering a plethora of sugar-free alternatives like Coke Zero Sugar, providing companies with a ‘safety net’ of products protected from taxation. Crucially, this also ensures consumers still have an all-important choice – take that away and then the entire industry suffers. The scope of the sugar tax does not end with soft drinks either; if successful the government will almost certainly look into a levy for sugary food products as well.”

However, Davison also notes that the sugar tax might have some unintended consequences for drinks brands and the government:

“Denmark tried something similar in 2011 with its own ‘fat tax’. It was abolished after just 15 months having caused inflation, widespread job cuts and increased cross-border trade, all whilst having little impact on consumption trends. Sometimes, less is more.”

Either way, it seems unlikely that consumers will notice a huge difference as a result of this new tax.

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