A Refreshing Voice for the Industry

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-By Aleisha Parr

Representing the interests of the non-alcoholic beverages industry throughout the country, the Australian Beverages Council Ltd (ABCL) has been making strides to ensure that the interests of its members are maintained in regards to the important issues while also promoting healthy lifestyle choices to the broader community. With members comprising of ninety five per cent of the industry’s production volume, ranging from the very large manufacturers and distributers through to the small family owned manufacturers, the Council coordinates with a broad range of stakeholders, including government departments, senior bureaucrats, regulators, the media, non-government organisations, consumer advocacy groups and, on occasion, members of the general public.

Offering representation across all levels of Government, ABCL speaks on behalf of thirty-one manufacturers, distributers, importers and franchisors as well as thirty-four suppliers to the industry, which is comprised of carbonated diet and regular soft drinks, sports and isotonic drinks, bottled and packaged waters, fruit juice drinks, cordials and iced teas.

Says Geoff Parker, CEO, “We have a long and proud history of providing a broad range of products to meet the needs of an ever broadening and increasingly discerning consumer base. Certainly some parts of the industry, some categories within the industry are performing well; others are experiencing either slight growth or are stagnant and that sort of reflects those categories and life cycles and indeed, some of the trends we’re seeing here in Australia are consistent with what we’re seeing globally.”

Perhaps the strongest trend within the industry, both locally and globally, can be seen across the broad category of health and wellness products, including functional drinks such as sports drinks and vitamin waters, as well as energy drinks and even bottled water. Consequently, carbonated soft drinks are only experiencing moderate growth, likely a result of the current popularity of health and wellness drinks.

Some of the ABCL’s greatest challenges arise from dispelling long-held mistaken beliefs centred on certain types of beverages in order to ensure the continued success of its members working in those markets. For example, a strong belief exists that the packaging of bottled water is filling up the nation’s landfill, which ABCL contends is illogical as the packaging is one hundred per cent recyclable. Says Mr Parker, “It’s about promoting the benefits not only of the product, but also the packaging and similarly there is a strong belief that soft drinks are one of the main reasons why kids are overweight. Certainly our research and our analysis shows that that’s simply not the case. So it’s about trying to shift some of those well-held beliefs from some of the anti-industry campaigners and that’s always a constant challenge.”

Of particular concern recently has been the effect of non-alcoholic beverages on a children’s diet, especially as they relate to childhood obesity. ABCL undertook a study through Flinders University to determine the validity of some of those paradigms held by industry stakeholders regarding the potential impact non-alcoholic beverages could have on a child’s health. Furthermore, ABCL organised fifteen meetings nationally and spoke to a range of stakeholders including government ministers, members of the media, dieticians and nutritionists.

In a related study, the ABCL commissioned a similar report on the role of pure fruit juice in a child’s diet, in order to dispel popular fears of dieticians and nutritionists that fruit juice is bad for a child’s diet. The report was independently written and peer reviewed by a prominent academic, and did in fact challenge those long-held beliefs. ABCL sent the report out to over 5000 registered dieticians and nutritionists to ensure that the proper information is available and promoted.

Not all of the work undertaken by ABCL is to promote existing beverages – frequently ABCL must take a proactive leading role in opening the discussion for issues within the industry. Recently, ABCL has done just that, working with others across the industry to produce a code of practice regarding acceptable levels of caffeine used in energy shots. The industry has also been working together to develop a number of commitments from members over and above legislation in areas of labelling, advisory standards, and distribution channels for energy drinks.

“The beverages council has always stood behind an overarching set of guiding principles,” says Mr Parker, “and that is primarily around the industry being allowed to operate in a fair, open market based economy as well as being able to provide a space that is free for our members to respond to consumer demand as well as providing a range of innovative products and that’s all underpinned by consumer health and safety.”

In order to promote and maintain this mandate, the ABCL has set out standards addressing obesity and health and wellness issues, which it requires its members to adhere to. These minimum standards again go above and beyond government legislation requirement, and concern competition, marketing to children, front of pack labelling and more. Each division of the ABCL is governed by its own code of practice specifically tailored to be relevant to that particular sector.

The next great challenge for ABCL will be in ensuring that the industry’s interests continue to be represented as the Blewett Labelling Review undertakes a major food labelling process. Currently, over sixty recommendations have been put through to the Federal Government, many of which could potentially impact the non-alcoholic beverages industry should the Government choose to adopt the recommendations. Mr Parker assures us that the ABCL will have a “strong and united industry voice [which] will ensure that the industry’s message is heard loud and clear to key opinion leaders.”

With so many different platforms for discussion of these issues, one of ABCL’s most important tasks is to ensure that the industry is represented through the council wherever its products are discussed, debated or cited. “Those debates can be in the media at a national level,” explains Mr Parker, “or it may well be a debate or discussion that’s happening in a small, regional newspaper, and it’s important for the Beverages Council to ensure that the members’ interests and in fact that the benefits of the members’ products are raised in these discussions in whatever forum that discussion might be held.”

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December 19, 2018, 5:29 PM AEDT