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Action on Sugar


13 November 2018

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Key findings:

  • Milkshakes sold across high street restaurants and fast food chains contain grotesque levels of sugar and calories, warns NEW survey by Action on Sugar
  • Some have a shocking 39 teaspoons of sugar – over 6 TIMES the recommended daily amount of sugar for a 7- to 10-year-old
  • Others are over HALF the daily-recommended amount of calories for an adult
  • As part of Sugar Awareness Week, Action on Sugar is calling for mandatory traffic light coloured nutrition labelling across ALL menus and a ban on the sale of milkshakes that exceed a calorie limit of 300 kcal per serving

Access full supermarket data here: Supermarket Milkshakes [PDF 349KB]

Access full out of home data here: Out of Home Milkshakes [PDF 492KB]

Full media coverage here

Alarming levels of sugar and calories are hidden in milkshakes sold across high street restaurants and fast food chains – according to a NEW survey[1] by Action on Sugar, based at Queen Mary University of London.

Family restaurant Toby Carvery is ranked as the most ‘shocking shake’ with its ‘Unicorn Freakshake’ containing an alarming 39 teaspoons of sugar  – that’s over six times the recommended daily amount of sugar for a 7- to 10-year-old.[2] The next worst offender is Five Guys Banana and Chocolate Shake with an excessive 37 teaspoons of sugar - the equivalent of drinking over four cans of cola.[3]

When it comes to hidden calories, Public Health England’s sugar reduction targets include a cap on milkshake products likely to be consumed in a single occasion to 300 calories. However, a milkshake such as Toby Carvery Unicorn Freakshake at 1280 kcal per serving is more than half the daily-recommended amount of calories for an adult and four times PHE’s proposed calorie limit. An average 25-year-old would need to jog for nearly three hours or vacuum the house for five hours to burn off the calories![4]

This new research concludes that ALL products sold in high street restaurants and fast food chains, with nutrition labelling available online, would receive a ‘red’ (high) label for excessive levels of sugar per serving.[5]

To mark its 3rd National Sugar Awareness Week (12-18th November 2018) supported by many charities and high profile advocates including Tom Watson MP, Davina McCall, Fiona Philips and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Action on Sugar is now calling for mandatory traffic light coloured nutrition labelling across ALL menus, while the UK government is consulting on menu calorie labelling.[6]

Furthermore, the group of leading experts is calling for a ban on the sale of milkshakes that exceed a calorie limit of 300 kcal per serving. This contrasts with Public Health England’s ambition to achieve only a 10% reduction in sugar by mid-2019 and a further 10% by mid-2021 to meet the 20% overall target,[7] which will still leave these milkshakes with vast and unnecessary amounts of sugar.

Worst offending shakes based on sugars content per serving sold in high street restaurants and fast food chains:

Product  name

Sugars per serving (g)*

Teaspoons of sugar per serving

Calories per serving (kcal)

Toby Carvery Unicorn Freakshake




Five Guys Milk Shake Base + Banana + Chocolate**




Five Guys Milk Shake Base + Cherry**




Pizza Hut Salted Caramel Ice Cream Shake




Harvester Cookie Monster Freakshake




Toby Carvery Cookie & Chocolate Freakshake




* Some of the sugars will be from the milk but current nutrition labelling does not differentiate between the amount of naturally occurring sugars (lactose) from milk and free sugars added in the form of table sugar, syrups and blended fruits.[8]

**Five Guys ‘Create your own’: for the purpose of the survey, the following mix-ins were chosen. However, nutrient content significantly differs depending on the combination chosen.

Action on Sugar also investigated the sugar and calorie levels in milkshakes sold by supermarkets and found that 90% of the 41 products surveyed would receive a ‘red’ (high) label for excessive levels of sugars per serving as sold. Of note, two contain no added sugars and all the sugars in those products are from milk.

Worst offending shakes based on sugars content per serving sold in supermarkets:

Product name

Sugars per serving (g)

Teaspoons of sugar per serving

Calories per serving  (kcal)

Muller Milk Frijj Chocolate Flavour 400ml




Muller Milk Frijj Fudge Brownie Flavour 400ml




Muller Milk Frijj Cookie Dough Flavour 400ml




Overall, supermarket milkshakes are much lower in sugar and calories per serving. Toby Carvery Unicorn Freakshake has 17 times the amount of sugar as a Yazoo No Added Sugar Strawberry 200ml which contains 9.2g of sugars per serving.

Lowest sugars content milkshakes per serving sold in supermarkets:

Product Name

Sugars per Serving (g)

Calories per serving (kcal)

Yazoo No Added Sugar Strawberry 200ml



Yazoo No Added Sugar Chocolate 200ml



Co-op Chocolate Milk 189ml



 Nutrition information and marketing

Irresponsibly, many out-of-home companies do not publish their nutrition information online or in their outlets such as: Byron, Creams, Ed’s Diner, Frankie & Benny’s, Handmade Burger Company and TGI Fridays. What’s more, some of these organisations even engage in more unacceptable marketing, such as Creams, who champion the following statement on their website:

"We want every visit to Creams to be an indulgent adventure for the senses and we see our desserts as ‘every day celebrations’. Once you’ve experienced Creams desserts we reckon you’ll be looking to celebrate something – anything! – every day". [9]

Registered Nutritionist Kawther Hashem, Researcher at Action on Sugar based at Queen Mary University of London says, “Undoubtedly some of these milkshakes contribute to excess sugar and calorie intake, and it is shocking this information is hidden from the consumer, who would struggle to find it. It is time the government introduced legislation to force companies to be more transparent about what is in their products by displaying clear nutrition information online and in the outlets, at all times.”

Holly Gabriel ANutr, Nutrition Campaigner at Action on Sugar adds, “It is unnecessary and unacceptable to sell milkshakes with over half an adult’s daily calorie needs in a single serving. There should be a limit of 300kcal per serving on these drinks. If you choose to eat out in a restaurant or cafe, you could unknowingly be consuming up to four times the amount of sugar and calories compared to a similar product from a supermarket, which demonstrates how easy it is to reduce sugar and calories.”

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Action on Sugar explains, “Despite milkshakes being incorporated into the Public Health England’s Sugar Reduction Programme as part of the government’s childhood obesity plan, it is clear from our survey that much more needs to be done than a 20% reduction. These very high calorie drinks if consumed on a daily basis, would result in children becoming obese and suffer from tooth decay - that is not acceptable.

“These high calorie milkshakes need to be reduced immediately below the 300kcal per serving.”

Dr Linda Greenwall and charity founder of the Dental Wellness Trust says, "These findings are remarkable, especially given tooth decay among children in Britain is now at a record high, largely because food and drink products are packed with unnecessary sugar.

“As the number of youngsters admitted to hospital to have their teeth extracted continues to escalate at a cost of more than £36million to the NHS, manufacturers, the out of home sector and parents must take immediate responsibility by significantly reducing the amount of sugar given to children, as well as enforcing daily brushing to reduce the likelihood of tooth decay."


For more information contact: David Clarke @ Rock PR:

E: M: 07773 225516

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.

[1] Survey details: full survey sorted by highest sugars per serving attached with this release.

  • For this survey, ‘flavoured milk’, ‘milkshakes’, ‘shakes’ and ‘freakshakes’ refer to drinks that are dairy-based, chilled or ambient, sold by fast-food chains, restaurants and supermarkets and intended to be consumed in a single occasion. ‘Freakshakes’ or ‘Ultimate shakes’ contain additions of cream, sauces, biscuits and confectionary and/or cake.
  • A total number of 140 products from 14 chains were eligible from high street restaurants and fast food chains with at least 20 outlets. Of these chains, 8 (Burger King, Five Guys, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Harvester, KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Toby Carvery) had nutrition information available online per serving. The nutrition information of 46 products were included in the survey. The 6 (Byron, Creams, Ed’s Diner, Frankie & Benny’s, Handmade Burger Company, TGI Fridays) that did not have nutrition information available were contacted via email or phone to confirm the lack of publicly available information.
  • A total number of 41 single serve drinks (≤400ml) were surveyed from supermarkets – Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Lidl, Co-op, Morrisons, Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s).
  • Where possible, data were collected in store (supermarkets) or online via the websites (fast-foods chains and restaurants).
  • The survey was carried out from w/c 9th October 2018 and data was checked w/c 5th November 2018


  • Hot flavoured dairy drinks, milk substitute drinks (non-dairy, protein/fitness/recovery shakes, coffee-based drinks, yoghurt-based drinks, ‘hard shakes’ i.e. milkshakes containing alcohol and milkshake powders and syrups sold as pre-mixes from supermarkets.
  • Products from coffee chains, supermarket cafes and product sold in EAT, Pret a Manger, LEON and Greggs because more suited to a coffee chain category

This work was funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

[2] NHS, Sugar (2018)

[3]  A 330ml can of Coca Cola contains 35g/330ml and 10.6g/100ml of sugars

[4] British Heart Foundation, Calorie Calculator (2018)

[5] Colour coding based on 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)

[6] Calorie labelling for food and drink served outside of the home consultation (2018)

[7] Public Health England, Sugar reduction: juice and milk based drinks (2018).

[8] Sugar allowances for milk based drinks set by PHE is 5.2g lactose per 100ml. However, portion sizes, ingredients and current labelling are not published in sufficient detail on pack and online to quantify the amount of lactose in milk-based drinks.

[9] Creams website (2018)

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