A Not So Sweet Situation: High Levels of Sugar in Majority of Singapore’s Packaged Beverages

By the end of 2021, Singapore will be implementing front-of-pack nutrition labels, the Nutri-Grade system, for non-alcoholic beverages (NABs) sold. The Nutri-Grade system assigns Grades A to D for free sugar and saturated fat. Grade A relates to the lowest sugar and saturated fat, while Grade D relates to the highest. The label will be required for beverages with Grades C and D, but optional for Grades A and B. The push to have front-of-pack nutrition labels for non-alcoholic beverages stems from a study analyzing 848 beverages available in Singapore. Among those beverages in the study, syrups, ready-to-drink vinegars, and vitamin drinks contained the most amount of sugar, and would classify as a Grade D beverage, whereas items like coconut water and kombucha would classify as Grade B beverages. With the administration of the Nutri-Grade, retailers in Singapore are looking towards providing healthier options and manufacturers are experiencing pressure to reformulate beverage formulations to healthier versions.

The study included packaged drinks in retail, not prepared in cafes, restaurants, and takeout locations. The average sugar content found among the 848 non-alcoholic beverages was about 6.9 grams per 100mL/g (average range of 3.0 to 22.5g) and would be categorized as a Grade C beverage. The study concluded that 46% of the beverages would be assigned to a Grade C and 14% a Grade D, if the beverages were not reformulated by the time the Nutri-Grade goes into effect. For reference, Grade A beverages contain 1g of less of sugar per 100mL, Grade B between 1 to 5g/100mL, Grade C more than 5 to 10g/100mL, and Grade D above 10g/100mL.

Of the drinks analyzed, vitamin drinks had the greatest sugar content of 22.5g per 100mL/g, while cordial/syrup/concentrate and RTD vinegars also had a high amount of sugar. The study also looked at the use of sweeteners and found 27% of non-alcoholic beverages contain sugar substitutes, like zero-calorie artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, natural sweeteners, and caloric artificial sweeteners. With the constant push from the Singapore government promoting public health nutrition, it is likely that there will be more of a use of sugar substitutes among non-alcoholic beverages and an increase in the use of natural sweeteners as a result of the implementation of Nutri-Grade. For example, stevia has been shown to be a renewable raw ingredient among the food industry, but customers have voiced their opinion about the metallic, bitter aftertaste. Also, monk fruit extract has become an increasingly popular natural sweetener over the past few years, but is still considered to be new to the food industry as limited and inconclusive research has been published on its consumer safety consumption and sensory profile as an additive.

Ask our experts if you have any nutritional labeling questions.

Posted on 1 December 2021