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Festive Hot Drinks Loaded with Sugar & Calories Reveals Lack of Progress in Achieving Sugar Reduction Targets

3 December 2019

Embargoed until 3 December 2019, 00.01 hours (UK time)

  • Many high street coffee chains are failing to reduce the sugar in their festive milk and milk-alternative hot drinks despite the government’s sugar reduction programme – with some hot drinks INCREASING in sugar since 2016
  • NEW shock survey reveals many festive hot beverages contain huge amounts of sugar – one has 23 teaspoons, as much sugar as four white chocolate and strawberry muffins!
  • Consumers looking for an alternative to cow’s milk are unknowingly consuming excessive sugar due to lack of labelling and the ‘health halo’ of vegan options
  • Worst hot chocolate ‘offender’ is Starbucks Signature Caramel Hot Chocolate with whipped cream, using Oat Milk (Venti) with over 23 teaspoons of sugar and 758 calories!
  • Worst sugary seasonal latte is Starbucks Gingerbread Latte with Oat Milk (Venti) with over 14 teaspoons of sugar and 523 calories per portion
  • As industry fails on its commitment to reformulate, Action on Sugar calls for the next government to extend its soft drinks industry levy to sugary milk and milk-alternative based drinks and for the food industry to immediately use milks and syrups with no added sugar

Hot Chocolate data 2019 [PDF 450KB]

Hot Drinks Comparison 2016 to 2019 [PDF 443KB]

Seasonal Latte Data 2019 [PDF 443KB]

Full media coverage

Many high street coffee chains are failing to make progress towards the Government’s voluntary sugar reduction targets (overseen by Public Health England) with their festive milk and milk alternative hot beverages – most of which would be eligible for the Soft Drinks Industry Levy[1] – according to a NEW nationwide survey by Action on Sugar, based at Queen Mary University of London.

The survey, which analysed both the sugar and calorie content of the largest available sizes of hot chocolates and seasonal lattes made with milk and milk alternatives (i.e. oat, almond, coconut, soya, rice-coconut) by popular high street chains, revealed certain seasonal beverages contain almost as much sugar as three cans of Coca Cola.[2]  Furthermore, all of the largest available size products surveyed would receive a red traffic light for total sugars (>13.5g/portion) – the exception being Costa’s Gingerbread Lattes (Medio) (made either with milk, soya or almond milk) [3].

According to the survey findings, the worst hot chocolate ‘offender’ is Starbucks Signature Caramel Hot Chocolate with whipped cream, using Oat Milk (Venti). This extra-sweet beverage has a staggering 23 teaspoons (93.7g) of sugar in one drink, and a whopping 758 calories – the same as eating four white chocolate and strawberry muffins![4]

On the menu at Caffe Nero is their Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate (Grande) made with skimmed milk which contains nearly 15 teaspoons of sugar (59.6g) and 503 calories. An average person would have to do 90 minutes on the cross trainer to work this energy off.[5]

In comparison, Leon Hot Chocolate (regular) has just over four teaspoons of sugar (17g) and 257 calories, clearly demonstrating that lower sugar drinks can be made and enjoyed.

Sugar content of hot chocolates (highest available from each outlet)

Outlet

Product Name

Size

Milk Used

Calories per portion (kcal)

Sugar per portion (g)

Starbucks

Signature Caramel Hot Chocolate

Venti

Oat

758

93.7

Caffe Nero

Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate with Whipped Cream

Grande

Skimmed

503

59.6

EAT

Honeycomb Hot Chocolate

Regular

Semi-skimmed

449

47.0

Costa

White Hot Chocolate (take away)

Massimo

Semi-skimmed

417

43.3

Pret

Hot Chocolate

Regular

Rice-coconut

288

40.4

KFC

Cadbury’s Hot Chocolate

Regular

not stated

180

29.3

Leon

Hot Chocolate

Regular

Whole

257

17.0

When it comes to sugary seasonal lattes, Starbucks again ranks the highest with its Gingerbread Latte with Oat Milk which is bursting with over 14 teaspoons of sugar (56.6g) and 523 calories per portion – the equivalent of eating 17 custard cream biscuits.[6]  If the same hot beverage was served with their almond milk instead of their oat milk, this would reduce the sugar content by 4.5 teaspoons of sugar (18g).

Sugar content of seasonal lattes (highest available from each outlet)

Outlet

Product Name

Size

Milk Used

Calories per portion (kcal)

Sugar per portion (g)

Starbucks

Gingerbread Latte

Venti

Oat

523

56.6

Costa

Hazelnut Praline & Cream Latte (take away)

Medio

Semi-skimmed

388

32.5

Pret

Rice-coconut Crème Brulee Latte

330g

Rice-coconut

216

31.5

McDonald's

Millionaire Latte

Large

Semi-skimmed

248

29

Caffe Nero

Salted Caramel Latte

Grande

Skimmed

160

28.6

EAT

Gingerbread latte

Regular

Semi-skimmed

206

23

Even without the added sugar from syrups, the sugar content of milk alternatives varies greatly. Unsweetened milk alternatives are naturally similar or lower in sugars than cow’s milk[7]and therefore using sugar-sweetened milks AND sugary syrups is completely unnecessary.  For example, Starbuck’s Oat Milk Venti Latte has over seven teaspoons of sugar (29.5g) and 350 calories per serve compared to Starbucks Almond latte in the same size which has under three teaspoons of sugar (11g) and 121 calories per serve.   

Sugar content in classic lattes from Starbucks made with milk and milk substitutes

Outlet

Product Name

Size

Milk Used

Calories per portion

Sugar per portion (g)

Starbucks

Latte

Venti

Oat

350

29.5

Starbucks

Latte

Venti

Skimmed

168

22

Starbucks

Latte

Venti

Whole

298

21.1

Starbucks

Latte

Venti

Semi-skimmed

235

21.1

Starbucks

Latte

Venti

Coconut

214

14.1

Starbucks

Latte

Venti

Soya

195

13.6

Starbucks

Latte

Venti

Almond

121

11


Lack of Progress

Astonishingly, despite being blasted for their high sugar content in Action on Sugar’s hot beverage survey in 2016[8], more than one in four (27%) directly comparable products had seen no decrease in sugar but have in fact increased. In 2016, a regular Vanilla Latte in KFC had 19g sugar per serve but now has 26g sugar per serve. In contrast, a KFC regular Mocha has come down in sugar considerably from 45.1g per serve to 21g per serve, showing no consistency in its reformulation process.

Whilst it’s clear that some businesses such as Costa, who has decreased sugar in some products by over 50% since 2016, are making noticeable progress as part of the voluntary measures – others are seriously lagging behind and are acting completely irresponsibly.  

Top three increases and top three decreases in sugar since 2016

Café

Drink

2016 Sugars per portion (g)

2019 Sugar per portion (g)

Decrease in sugar since 2016

KFC

Mocha

45.1

21.0

Costa Coffee

Chai Latte Massimo

79.7

39.0

Costa Coffee

Mocha Massimo

51.7

25.7

Increase in sugar since 2016

Caffe Nero

White Chocolate Mocha

24.5

30.1

Greggs

Hot Chocolate

33.0

42.0

KFC

Vanilla Latte

19.0

26.0

HM Treasury was due to review the continuation of milk-based drinks exempt from the soft drinks industry levy (SDIL) in 2020 but election manifestos from Labour and Liberal Democrats have each pledged to extend the successful Soft Drinks Industry Levy to include sugary milk-based drinks[9],[10], which was also proposed in Chapter 2 of the Childhood Obesity Plan[11] and the Green Paper Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s[12]. Action on Sugar is now urging the next government to ensure that the mandatory soft drinks industry levy will be extended to both sugary milk and milk-alternative based drinks in order to create a much-needed level-playing field.

Holly Gabriel, Registered Nutritionist at Action on Sugar, says: “It is shocking that so many high street coffee chains are wilfully putting their customers’ health at risk despite sugar reduction targets for sugary milk drinks being set in 2018. Responsible coffee shops have shown reformulation is possible within this category.  For example, Costa have made some significant reductions in sugar since 2016 and some now offer smaller sizes as standard for seasonal drinks.

“Coffee shops and cafes need to take much greater steps to reduce the levels of sugar and portion sizes, promote lower sugar alternatives and stop pushing indulgent extras at the till.”

Katharine Jenner, Campaign Director at Action on Sugar, based at Queen Mary University of London, says: “You can always add sugar in, but you can’t take it out. Customers looking for dairy alternatives could be shocked to learn that many coffee shops and cafes use pre-sweetened alternative milks as the nutrition information is often very difficult to find – with information only available on websites or not at all. Only Pret A Manger had information available on screens in store.

“The hospitality industry has a key role to play in being transparent to help reduce the amount of sugar we consume, which is one of the biggest causes of obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and tooth decay. Companies must improve the flow of healthy options bought by always displaying clear nutrition information at the point of sale.”

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Action on Sugar, explains: “It’s vital that whichever government is in power next week fully commits to the target to halve childhood obesity by 2030, and to the current agreed Childhood Obesity Plan Chapter 211 This will mean giving full control to PHE to deliver a robust prevention programme and the authority to ensure that a largely irresponsible food industry fully complies – and that must include taxing these sugary milk-based drinks in the same way as soft drinks”.

Dr Saul Konviser of the Dental Wellness Trust charity says: "The findings are deeply concerning especially given that many children also consume these festive sugary drinks which are not only bad for their overall health but also their dental health. Every day, at least 100 children are in UK hospitals having rotten teeth pulled out because of decay caused by sugary food and drinks that is entirely preventable. It is high time coffee shops and cafes act more responsibly and that means reducing the sugar and portion sizes across their drinks menu and stop putting profits before the health of our nation which is feeding the UK's obesity, Type 2 diabetes and tooth decay crisis."

Matt Lambert, a nutritionist at World Cancer Research Fund, said: “It’s clear that restaurants and cafes are not doing enough to make our food and drink healthier, so it is time for government to step-up and play their part. That means ensuring food and drink consumed out of the home has clear calorie labelling, and reducing the amount of sugar in food and drink in cafes and other food outlets.

“Consuming too much sugar contributes to weight-gain, and being overweight or obese increases the risk of at least 12 different types of cancer. With 64% of adults in England being overweight or obese, suddenly, these festive drinks don’t seem so jolly anymore."

Professor Amelia Lake, Dietitian & Public Health Nutritionist at Teesside University, said: "This is such important awareness raising. As a population we are generally unaware of how much sugar is hidden in our drinks as well as our food. The evidence tells us that the sugar levy is working & reducing the amount of sugar in the food environment. We need to shape our food environment to be healthier to make the healthy choice the norm."

Lorraine Tulloch at Obesity Action Scotland, said: "It is extremely disappointing to see that many high street coffee chains are still failing to reduce sugar in their milk-based and milk-alternative hot drinks, despite the UK Government’s Sugar Reduction Programme which aimed to encourage voluntary action. This demonstrates clearly the need for a mandatory approach and we would urge the UK Gov to take steps to include milk-based drinks with added sugar and liquid drink flavourings in the SDIL.” 

Ends

For more information contact: David Clarke @ Rock PR:

E: david@rock-pr.com M: 07773 225516

Join the conversation @actiononsugar

Notes to editors:

Action on Sugar is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is successfully working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in food and drink products.

  • A total of 124 hot chocolates and 79 seasonal lattes were surveyed across UK high street coffee chains: Caffe Nero, Starbucks, Costa, KFC, Greggs, McDonalds, EAT, Leon and Pret.
  • For this survey, ‘Seasonal Latte’ refers to any drink offered as a seasonal special and includes the term ‘latte’ in the product name at the time of data collection.
  • Nutrition information was accessed online via company websites between 11th - 22nd November 2019.
  • From the published nutrition information the largest possible size for each drink was chosen (larger sizes may be still offered in store). NB the actual volume is not stated in store or online and so Action on Sugar were not able to make direct/like for like comparisons.
  • Some sugar will be naturally occurring in cow’s milk. PHE set an allowance value of 3.8g lactose per 100ml for hot drinks made with cow’s milk purchased out of home.[13]
  • An allowance of 2g sugar per 100ml is made by PHE for milk substitute drinks. It is worth noting however that sugar present in milk substitutes is classified as ‘free sugars’ [14] [15]
  • 70 products surveyed were directly comparable to Action on Survey hot drinks survey in 2016

[1] Government guidance: Check if your drink is liable for the Soft Drinks Industry Levy https://www.gov.uk/guidance/check-if-your-drink-is-liable-for-the-soft-drinks-industry-levy

[2] A 330ml can of Coca Cola contains 35g/330ml and 10.6g/100ml of sugar. https://www.coca-cola.co.uk/drinks/coca-cola/coca-cola

[3] Colour coding based on new front of pack colour-coded nutrition labelling criteria (Sugars - Red >13.5g/portion or >11.25g/100ml, Amber >2.5≤11.25/100ml, Green ≤2.25g/100ml)

[4] Tesco white chocolate and strawberry muffins contains 23.1g sugar per muffin: https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/304376182

[5] Bupa calorie calculator: https://www.bupa.co.uk/health-information/tools-calculators/calories-calculator

[6] A custard cream biscuit from Tesco contains 3.4 sugar per biscuit https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/254921258

[7] Oatly Oat milk: https://www.oatly.com/int/products/oat-drink-whole

[8] http://www.actiononsugar.org/surveys/2016/hot-flavoured-drinks/#d.en.751351

[9]Labour manifesto: https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/rebuild-our-public-services/

[10] Liberal Democrats manifesto: https://www.libdems.org.uk/plan

[11] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/childhood-obesity-a-plan-for-action-chapter-2

[12] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/advancing-our-health-prevention-in-the-2020s/advancing-our-health-prevention-in-the-2020s-consultation-document

[13]PHE juice and milk-based drinks guidance: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/708930/Sugar_reduction_juice_and_milk_based_drinks.pdf

[14]PHE juice and milk-based drinks guidance: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/708930/Sugar_reduction_juice_and_milk_based_drinks.pdf

[15]Definition of free sugars: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29587886

 

 

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