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Action on Sugar

Coffee shop cakes

• NEW research by Action on Sugar reveals a popular fruity cake – Pret a Manger’s Lemon Drizzle slice - contains a whopping 18 tsp of sugar per slice! That’s three times a child’s entire daily-recommended maximum sugar intake  and more sugar than 6 Krispy Kremes
• A Lemon Slice, Blueberry Muffin and a Carrot Cake are the worst offenders, sold in Starbucks and Pret a Manger – each with 10 or more teaspoons of sugar per serving
• Compared to cafes, supermarkets are leading the way when it comes to offering customers lower calories and sugar per serving
• Action on Sugar urges food manufacturers and cafes to participate in Public Health England’s voluntary sugar reduction programme to help tackle obesity and type 2 diabetes

Cake Survey Data [PDF 314KB]

NEW research by Action on Sugar , at Queen Mary University of London, reveals staggering high levels of sugar and calories in so-called ‘fruity cakes’ (lemon, blueberry and carrot). Whilst cakes should be consumed as an occasional food, they are in fact one of the main contributors of sugar intake in children.  Action on Sugar is again urging food manufacturers and cafes to get behind Public Health England’s voluntary sugar reduction programme to help tackle obesity and type 2 diabetes – the biggest public health concerns facing Britain today.

Of the 67 fruity cakes surveyed, surprisingly it was a lemon cake which has the highest calorie content per serving with Pret a Manger’s Lemon Drizzle Slice containing a whopping 18 teaspoons of sugar (698kcal) per slice!  That’s more sugar than in SIX Krispy Kremes!

Next up was Starbucks’ Christmas Carrot Cake with 15 teaspoons of sugar (616kcal) per serving – that’s more sugar than 5 Krispy Kremes, followed by Pret a Manger’s Double Berry Muffins loaded with a shocking 10 teaspoons of sugar (512kcal) per serving.

Even within cafes, there was a big difference in sugar and calorie content per serving. A Caffé Nero Lemon Poppyseed Muffin (8 tsp sugar, 461kcal) contains 3 teaspoons less sugar than the same choice in Starbucks (11 tsp sugar, 470kcal) per serving.

Across each of the three cake varieties supermarkets offered lower calories and sugar per serving, compared to those sold in cafes – demonstrating that manufacturers can make cakes with less calories and sugar, partly due to smaller portion sizes.   Therefore, more immediate action is needed from cafes.

Below is a list of the three worst offenders and best three performers for each flavour, sorted by highest calories per serving.


* As reported on pack or calculated from per 100g and per serving nutrition information.
**As recommended on pack or as sold. Serving/portion size varies as given on pack or as sold.

Sugar reduction, whereby the sugar and sweetness in products are gradually reduced, is one of the most important strategy to prevent obesity, providing the calorie content is also reduced. In addition to sugar reduction, companies must also reduce portion size  and shift purchasing patterns to healthier options to reduce the overall amount of sugar consumed by the population. Industry now has a limited window of opportunity to prove that PHE’s voluntary programme can work. However, if they do not, we will need to have mandatory targets, as called for by the supermarkets.

Action on Sugar will be closely monitoring the work of all food companies to ensure they are committed to preventing obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay in future generations.

Registered Nutritionist Kawther Hashem, Researcher at Action on Sugar, says: “It’s ludicrous that popular coffee shops are serving slices of cake containing over 600 calories and 18 teaspoons of sugar. To burn off this many calories you’d need to walk for over 2 hours. Cakes, biscuits and puddings should be an occasional food but people are consuming these products regularly without realising the amount of energy required to burn off this many calories.

“Both supermarkets and cafés must help us eat better by offering products with fewer calories and less sugar in smaller portion sizes.”

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Action on Sugar says: “Gradual reduction in sugar and calories are by the most effective way of reducing calorie intake and thereby helping to prevent both obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“This survey clearly demonstrates the shocking amounts of sugar and calories in cakes. Both retailers and cafes must immediately start reducing the huge and unnecessary amounts of sugar and calories in these products.”

Registered Nutritionist Jenny Rosborough, Campaign Manager at Action on Sugar says: “Considering most people are likely to buy a hot beverage to eat with their cake, it’s far too easy to visit a coffee shop and consume the best part of 1000 calories in one sitting. Everyone should be able to enjoy cake, but there is no need for just one slice to exceed an adult’s maximum daily recommendation of sugar by almost three times.

“Public Health England will be recommending calorie caps per serving of cake and companies must achieve this to prove they are taking their role in tackling obesity and type 2 diabetes seriously.”

Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “We know some cakes and muffins contain more sugar and are sold in larger portions than others. That's why we want those making and selling cakes to look at where they can reduce sugar and address portion sizes. If every part of the food and drink industry worked to reduce sugar, we'd stand a better chance of helping families make healthier choices and consume less.”

Simon Capewell, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at University of Liverpool says, "It beggars belief that so many snack cakes hide at least 12 tablespoons of sugar. That is three days recommended maximum for a child, and two days max for an adult. The food industry now needs to act rapidly to protect the health of its customers, or face justifiable criticism."

Alex Holt, Health Equalities Group says, “Some of these cakes contain as many calories as an adult would eat for their evening meal, with three times the maximum daily allowance of sugar. All of this before considering what is eaten for the rest of the day.”
“We have a thriving coffee shop culture in the UK, and more and more they appear to be destinations for children and young people to meet with friends. Retailers need to take more responsibility for the nutritional value of foods they sell, reformulation and portion control are key to this. It should be easier for people to have an occasional slice of cake without overloading their bodies with sugar and calories.”

Chris Stirk, Weight Watchers UK General Manager commented: “We’re delighted to be listed as the number one best performer, based on calories and sugar content per serving, in the carrot cake category, evidence of our continued commitment to improving our licensed food range in line with consumer needs and health requirements. Unlike fad diets and quick fixes, Weight Watchers provides a flexible and balanced approach to leading a healthier lifestyle without giving up the things you love, and particularly at this time of year, people shouldn’t be discouraged from enjoying a treat or two. However, there’s no getting away from the obesity epidemic that is sweeping the nation with the disease taking over smoking as the leading cause of preventable death. All food manufacturers, cafes and restaurants have a responsibility to tackle the increasing health and obesity issues facing the UK and reducing sugar and portion sizes is one part of the puzzle and a step in the right direction.”


For more information contact: David Clarke @ Rock PR:
M: 07773 225516

Notes to editors

[1] A 7-10 year old child’s maximum daily allowance of sugar is 24g, 6 teaspoons.

[2] Krispy Kreme Original Glazed – 52g contains 12.6g sugar and 200kcal

[3] Survey details – full survey sorted by highest calories per serving attached with this release.
• Data was collected for 157 supermarket and cafe cakes where nutritional information was available per 100g or per portion, for the following flavours blueberry muffin (13), carrot cake/cupcake (22), chocolate cake/muffin/cupcake (90) and lemon cake/muffin (34).
• Data per serving was available for all the products included apart for Percy Ingle Carrot Cupcake and Country Cakes.
• Data per 100g was available for all the products included apart for McDonalds Chocolate Muffin.
• Data was collected by visiting all main supermarkets using the FoodSwitch app to collect data on nutritional information and from café’s websites
• Data was collected in store from w/c 22nd August 2016 from the following supermarkets: Aldi, ASDA, Co-operative, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose and from w/c 19th September 2016 from the following out of home outlets: Starbucks, Costa, Paul's Boulangerie, Pret a Manger, Greggs, Leon, Eat, Caffé Nero, McDonalds (McCafe) and Percy Ingle. Small sample was double checked during w/c 21st and 28th November 2016.
• Data is sorted by calories to include both fat and sugar. Some manufacturers reduce fat in certain products whilst increasing the sugar and therefore Action on Sugar is calling for overall calorie reduction.

[4] PHE’s sugar reduction programme is initially focusing on the nine categories that make the largest contributions to children’s sugar intakes: breakfast cereals, yoghurts, biscuits, cakes, confectionery, morning goods (e.g. pastries), puddings, ice cream and sweet spreads.

[5] A similar Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake from Costa contains 328 kcal and 21g of sugars.  

[6] Chocolate cakes were also surveyed below are the worst offenders and best performers

[7] Evidences shows that people consistently eat more food or drink more non-alcoholic drinks when offered larger-sized portions, packages or items of tableware than when offered smaller-sized versions -

[8] Retailers urge mandatory cuts to food sugar levels -

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