The consumption of soft drinks falls by 2.2% in Catalonia due to the sugar tax, according to a study by UIC Barcelona

24/01/19
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This is the first study analysing the consumption of all drinks: both sugary and those without added sugar and drinks with and without alcohol in Spain. The greatest drop was seen in soft drinks, 13.6% for those with a medium sugar content and 3,5% for drinks with a high sugar content.

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The consumption of bottled soft drinks has dropped by 2,2% in Catalonia since the new Catalan Generalitat tax on sugary drinks came into force on 1 May 2017, according to a study undertaken at UIC Barcelona. 

Researchers Toni Mora, a member of the Research Institute for Evaluation and Public Policies at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (IRAPP - UIC Barcelona); Eleonora Fichera (University of Bath); Beatriz G. López-Valcárcel (University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria) and David Roche (IRAPP - UIC Barcelona) studied the consumer response to this special tax.

The study was entitled “Do consumers respond to ‘dissuasive taxes’ in a heterogeneous manner?  New evidence on the sugar using data from a barcode scanner” analysed massive data on consumption from a year before the new tax came into force until a year afterwards.  A total of around 125 million records from a large chain of supermarkets with a 10% market share were analysed.  This is the first study analysing the consumption of all drinks: both sugary and without added sugar and drinks with and without alcohol in Spain

The results suggest that overall, as a result of the tax, families have reduced the total amount of sugar consumed in drinks by approximately 2.2%.  The greatest drop was seen in soft drinks, 13.6% in those with a medium sugar content and 3.5% in drinks with a high sugar content. In the case of schools, the drop was 5.2% for other drinks such as teas, tiger nut milk and vegetable drinks, 7.7%. for drinks with a medium sugar content, and 7.3% for juices with a medium sugar content.

All bottled drinks that contain added calorie sweeteners are taxed, 8 euro cents per litre for drinks that contain between 5 and 8 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres (ml) and 12 euro cents per litre for drinks that contain more than 8 grams of sugar per 100 ml.  Drinks with less than 5 grams of sugar per 100 ml are exempt from this tax.  One of the peculiarities of this tax is that for the first time it has established a requirement that 100% of the tax must be added to the final price of the product, even although the distributors are the tax collectors and the end consumer does not receive a record of the amount of the tax on their receipt.

Researcher and second vice-president of the Health Economy Association (AES), Toni Mora, stated that this decrease is due to this tax coming into force, although he insists that the “impact is low”.

The report also reveals that while the consumption of soft drinks is decreasing, there is an increase in the purchase of other sugary drinks such as milkshakes, which have increased by 5.4%.  In the case of tea, tiger nut milk and vegetable drinks, the increase was even greater, at 9.1%, and the drinks where consumption increased the most were isotonic drinks, at 33.3%.  According to Mora, these changes are a response to the tax coming into force, and “it also might be due to the perception that these types of drinks are healthier”.

Greater drop among families with less resources

Apart from the information about the purchase in itself (which product, quantity and at what price) the study contained socioeconomic information about the purchasing family (income, number of children, place of residence, total spend at the supermarket). 

The database is so wide-ranging that it allowed not only the impact the sugary drinks tax had on consumption to be analysed, but also whether the behaviour of families is similar or if there are different patterns depending to their characteristics.  Along these lines, the study concludes that the reduction in the consumption of sugar was higher for families with lower incomes, although the difference did not reach one percentage point. These homes have an income of up to €18,400 per family unit per year.  According to Mora “the study found a great heterogeneity between families both in terms of their reaction to the tax depending on their socio-economic level and age, and in terms of product categories”.

The authors of the research believe it is necessary from them to be used in greater moderation in order to reduce the consumption of this type of product.  Along the same lines, Mora pointed out that “there is not enough awareness and we need to ‘attack’ from different directions, from intervention in schools to higher taxes, to changing the front labels (although this would require an evaluation of the type of labelling that would be effective) and urge the industry to drastically reduce added sugar, saturated fats and salt in their products.

About the Eurest Chair in Public Economics: Evaluation of Health and Education Policies
 
The Universitat Internacional de Catalunya and Eurest Catalunya, a leading company in the catering sector for groups belonging to the Compass Group, created in 2015 the Eurest Chair in Public Economics: Evaluation of Health and Education Policies. Directed by Dr. Toni Mora, Vice-Rector of Research, Innovation and Transfer of UIC Barcelona, the Chair addresses three main areas of research: nutrition and obesity; the incidence of educational levels and the evaluation of programs in education, and the use of health resources.
 

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