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Canadian beverage makers to slash calories

Launches initiative to reduce non-alcoholic beverage calories consumed by Canadians

Just weeks after dissing a global health panel's call for a sugar tax on soft drinks to battle obesity, the Canadian Beverage Association has launched a new program aimed at cutting calories in non-alcoholic beverages for the same cause. "There's no contradiction," said Jim Goetz, president of the Canadian Beverage Association. "They were calling for a mandatory tax.  Ours is a voluntary approach that we've been talking about for quite a while." Under the new Balance Calories initiative, the CBA member companies that make and distribute the majority of more than 60 brands of carbonated soft drinks, energy and sports drinks, juices and juice drinks, bottled waters, ready-to-serve iced teas and coffees, and other non-alcoholic beverages sold in Canada will work to reduce the number of calories Canadians get from non-alcoholic refreshment beverages — excluding hot coffees, teas, and dairy products — by 20% over the next decade. To do that, the CBA will spearhead both the creation and implementation of a national "engagement and advocacy" program to help increase consumer awareness about obesity and the issue of caloric balance. Members of the 65-year-old national industry association also pledge to develop new product, package and marketing innovations that will generate consumer access and interest to what the CBA calls "reduced calorie beverage options." The Conference Board of Canada is also teaming up with the CBA and the other as-yet-unnamed public, private and not-for-profit stakeholders expected to join the initiative to develop benchmarks and other criteria to measure both the impact and progress of the  Balance Calories initiative over the next ten years. "We want to give Canadians more choice in regards to the calories they consume in non-alcoholic beverages," said Goetz. "It's something we're committed to, and we've been very successful at it." He was referring to Clear on Calories, a voluntary initiative begun in 2004 that reigned in marketing to children, and implemented front-of-pack calorie labeling. According to Goetz, that initiative, together with several product and packaging innovations by CBA members, "facilitated" a 20% per capita drop in beverage calorie consumption in Canada. "We hope to continue providing consumers with more low- and no-calorie choices," said Goetz, who noted that about 50% of all non-alcoholic beverages on store shelves in Canada today are either no or low-cal.  “We will try to leverage our strengths in marketing and innovation and our vast distribution networks to make this new program work." But the only Canadian in the group of 23 international medical and obesity experts who earlier this month called on the world’s soft drink manufacturers to reduce the amount of sugar in their products is having none of it. “An unproven program and a lofty promise that provides the CBA with the opportunity to brag about being helpful is better business for (the beverage industry) than legislation," Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, wrote in an email to Canadian Grocer about the new initiative. "Given the existing trend of consumers drinking less soda, growing calls to reduce juice consumption, and more evidence about milk not being a magical beverage, there’s a good chance liquid calories will go down by themselves. "CBA is set to take credit for something that would have happened regardless of their breathless lip service,” added Dr. Freedhoff.

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