Reactions of industry and associated organisations to the announcement of the UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy: longitudinal thematic analysis of UK media articles, 2016-18.
BMC Public Health 2023 ; 23: 280.
PubMed ID : 36750834
PMCID : PMC9906897
The UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) was announced in March 2016, became law in April 2017, and was implemented in April 2018. Empirical analyses of commercial responses have not been undertaken to establish the scale, direction or nuance of industry media messaging around fiscal policies. We aimed to develop a detailed understanding of industry reactions to the SDIL in publicly available media, including whether and how these changed from announcement to implementation.
We searched Factiva to identify articles related to sugar, soft-drinks, and the SDIL, between 16th March 2016-5 April 2018. Articles included were UK publications written in English and reporting a quotation from an industry actor in response to the SDIL. We used a longitudinal thematic analysis of public statements by the soft-drinks industry that covered their reactions in relation to key policy milestones.
Two hundred and ninety-eight articles were included. After the announcement in March 2016, there was strong opposition to the SDIL. After the public consultation, evolving opposition narratives were seen. After the SDIL became law, reactions reflected a shift to adapting to the SDIL. Following the publication of the final regulations, statements sought to emphasise industry opportunities and ensure the perceived profitability of the soft drinks sector. The most significant change in message (from opposition to adapting to the SDIL) occurred when the SDIL was implemented (6 April 2018).
Reactions to the SDIL changed over time. Industry modified its media responses from a position of strong opposition to one that appeared to focus on adaptation and maximising perceived profitability after the SDIL became law. This shift suggests that the forces that shape industry media responses to fiscal policies do not remain constant but evolve in response to policy characteristics and the stage of the policy process to maximise beneficial framing.
The Soft Drinks Industry Levy was announced in the United Kingdom (UK) in March 2016 and implemented in April 2018. This policy taxed manufacturers of sugary soft drinks, which encouraged manufacturers to reduce the amount of sugar in these drinks, and the amount of sugar people drink. However, the soft drinks industry expressed concerns about this policy and how it might affect them. One way they did was through the newspapers. Our study aimed to look at what the food and drink industry said in statements to newspapers between the announcement and implementation of the levy. We searched for newspaper articles that contained a relevant statement by industry and found 298 articles. When the SDIL was announced, industry statements were strongly against the SDIL. However, once the public consultation on the policy was open, these statements started to soften. Once the SDIL became law statements changed further suggesting that industry was adapting to the policy and that it was not harming them. Finally, once the SDIL was implemented statements reflected that industry could use the SDIL as an opportunity and it would still make a profit. Our conclusions are that industry reaction to the SDIL changed over time and shifted from being strongly opposed to it to making statements that indicated it would be an opportunity for the industry. We think this change occurred in order to reassure shareholders that the levy would not be damaging to businesses or reduce profits.