Bulgaria – Among the Leading Markets in Europe in Terms of Carbonated Drinks Without Added Sugars Share

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The Sixth National Seminar tracks the progress on food reformulation in order to reduce added sugars

The Sixth National Seminar, organized by the Ministry of Health and the National Center for Public Health and Analysis (NCPHA), with academics and industry organizations, reported on the progress on food reformulation in order to reduce added sugars, an activity part of the National Program for Prevention of Chronic Non-communicable Diseases.

According to a report by the European Commission, 5 out of 10 risk factors for chronic non-communicable diseases are related to nutrition . Food reformulation has been identified as one of the six policies aimed at ensuring healthy eating conditions, set by the World Health Organization during an UN Summit at the end of 2021.

Currently in Bulgaria, the soft drinks industry is the first and only sector of the food industry, which officially and voluntarily engaged before the Scientific Expert Council to the Ministry of Health to achieve the goal defined in the EU Annex to reduce added sugars. At the end of last year, an independent external evaluation and expertise examined the labeled information on beverages at the market and confirmed the fulfillment of the voluntary commitment to further 15% reduction of added sugars and calories in carbonated drinks in Bulgaria between 2015 and 2020.

Because of the continuous efforts of the sector through the years, Bulgaria is among the leading markets in terms of carbonated drinks without added sugars share – 65.6%, with twice the level of performance compared to the average share in Europe. In our country, only 1 out of 5 drinks produced by the soft drinks industry contains added sugars, doubling the performance since the First Reformulation Seminar, despite the challenging environment with broken supply chains, industrial and economic challenges due to COVID-19 .

“For us, as soft drinks producers, the topic of reducing added sugars is extremely important because we have been fulfilling our responsible role for decades at both national and European level. For more than 20 years, our industry has been not only a pioneer, but also the leader in the reformulation and achievement of the goals we have set, namely a healthier, more balanced and sustainable nutrient environment. To achieve a sustainable reduction in the consumption of added sugar in soft drinks, our efforts are focused not only on the formulas and categories we develop, but also on the implementation of a set of measures and voluntary commitments, like including transparent and effective consumer information through clear food labeling, encouraging the intake of smaller portions of beverages by offering smaller packages, responsible marketing and regular and independent monitoring.”, said Jana Velichkova, Executive Director of the Association of Soft Drinks Producers in Bulgaria.

The next voluntary commitments of the soft drinks industry at EU level include yet another 10% average reduction in added sugars, as well as enhancing the commitment to responsible marketing – not to market or advertise to children below 13 years old (increase the age limit with 1 year compared to the previous commitment) across all media, including digital environment and social media, and lowering the audience threshold to 30%.

During the seminar, it was highlighted that in order to achieve sustainable results in reducing the consumption of added sugars, a multilateral approach and collective action by all participants is needed. One of the bodies that unite the scientific community, institutions and representatives of the associations is the Scientific-Expert Council on Food, formed by Order of the Minister of Health in 2017.

“We have done a lot of work in the Scientific-Expert Council on Food, developing more than 30 approved standards with reduced salt, sugar or fat, together with the associations of food and beverage producers. Our last activity before COVID-19 was the specification and development of national limit values for salt, fats, saturated fatty acids and sugars, in priority food groups for the country.

These limit values are the result of very long consultations, are published ат the Ministry of Health website and are voluntary to be applied by the industry. This is the basis for comparison, according to which all producers can see in what direction to develop their new products. We do not have a new Ministry of Health order yet, but I strongly hope that the Council will continue its work, as it is extremely important and I think that in the future the work on monitoring this process should be a priority for the Ministry of Health.”, said Prof. Veselka Duleva, Head of the Food and Nutrition Department at the National Center for Public Health and Analysis and National Consultant on Nutrition and Dietetics at the Ministry of Health.

A key factor in monitoring the implementation of the commitments is the introduction of a united and standardized monitoring system, covering all food industry sectors. A monitoring methodology is currently being developed at European level. In the joint actions, of which the NCPHA and the Ministry of Health are a part, a monitoring department has been developed, which has been tested in two Member States, and Bulgaria is scheduled for next year.