Ethical soft drinks
Organic and fairtrade soft drinks
Gusto, Karma Cola, Lemonaid Beverages, Scheckter’s (ORG Beverages SARL), Luscombe, Pip Organic (Booost Trading) and Biona (Windmill Organics Ltd.) all received positive Company Ethos marks for being organic companies in this guide. Calyx Drinks Ltd. stated that it used 60-80% organic ingredients.
Some companies retailed both organic and non-organic products. These were SHS Group (Rocks organic), The Coca-Cola Company (Honest Tea), Belvoir, and Healthy Sales Group (Switchle)
Gusto, Lemonaid Beverages, Karma Cola and Calypso Fairtrade (Refresco) also sourced Fairtrade ingredients.
Cola constitutes 55.8% of all soft drinks consumed in Britain. From the cola nut itself to the sugar and sweeteners used, many agricultural ingredients in cola come with serious poverty and workers’ rights issues.
Combined, the two biggest producers globally – The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo – own so many brands we needed an overflow box (see below).
Our Best Buy cola alternatives are Gusto and Karma. Both are Fairtrade and organic.
Fairtrade certification is not that strong on wages but does help to regulate working conditions. And the major advantage of Fairtrade is related to pricing, which helps small family farms make a decent income.
Vegan soft drinks
Marks: While several companies in this guide did not appear to use animal-derived ingredients, we only awarded marks to companies that explicitly stated that they were vegan.
Many soft drinks are naturally vegan, but when a company states that it is vegan it enables consumers to hold the company to higher standards, including by highlighting other potential animal rights issues in the company’s activities.
100% vegan companies
Calyx Drinks Ltd, Cawston Press, Lemonaid Beverages, Fevertree and Gusto Organic explicitly state that all company products are vegan. Lemonaid Beverages however retailed products containing organic honey, which some vegans might not consider acceptable.
Products: what to look out for
The Vegan Society website says
“A small number of orange-coloured drinks contain gelatine (derived from collagen obtained from various animal by-products) and one or two red-coloured ones contain cochineal (food colouring derived from a species of insect). These will be stated on the packaging.
“You won’t need to look too closely to tell if there’s milk, cream, or honey in a drink; as this is usually easy to spot from the name (don’t panic – you don’t need Baileys if you make your own vegan Irish Cream).
“One thing to look out for is concentrated juice. Juice missing its pulp may been distilled through non-vegetarian ingredients, so look for a vegetarian/vegan label or, even better, the Vegan Trademark. If none is available, it is advised that you contact the manufacturer.”
Big brands that aren’t vegan
Diet Pepsi and Diet Pepsi Caffeine Free aren’t suitable for vegans. The company mysteriously refuses to say why these products aren’t vegan.
The following Coca-Cola drinks contain animal derivatives:
Lilt, Lilt Zero, Kia-Ora Orange Squash No Added Sugar, Schweppes Indian Tonic Water, Schweppes Orange Squash and Honest (Lemon and Honey).
The company website states that these contain fish gelatine, honey, vitamin D sourced from lanolin in sheep’s wool, or milk.
Some retailers are turning away from petroleum-based plastics in favour of bioplastics (which are made at least partially from renewable alternatives).
However, some bioplastics are made from agricultural and industrial by-products such as feathers and fish scales.
Drink up for your health?
When we last reviewed soft drinks in 2017, the government was about to implement the Soft Drinks Levy (known as the Sugar Tax). Recent years have witnessed product innovation as drinks manufacturers seek to reduce costs, and some consumers seek healthier alternatives.
Taking a stand against fatphobia
Sugar does have health impacts– it’s linked to tooth cavities, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and, of course, obesity.
However, we think it’s important when talking about food and health to highlight another ethical issue – fatphobia and body shaming. Virgie Tovar is an American author and activist on weight-based discrimination and body image.
“Any food justice conversation that demonizes food or perpetuates weight stigma has failed. Food justice conversations inadvertently fall into the same trap again and again: stoking fear around foods that are a regular part of many people’s diets and using the presence of higher weight people as evidence that food systems have failed. These tactics promote food anxiety and fatphobia, both are connected to disordered eating. It’s important to centralize human rights in this conversation, rather than health outcomes.”
Coca-Cola downplayed link between diet and obesity
At the same time, being able to access research about foods’ effect on health should be a consumer’s right. Research has emerged showing that Coca-Cola funded research which downplayed the link between diet and obesity and promoted the idea that obesity was instead caused by a lack of exercise.
According to a 2020 article in the journal Public Health and Nutrition, Coca-Cola sought to obscure its relationship with researchers, minimise the public perception of its role and use these researchers to promote industry-friendly messaging.
Impact of the sugar tax
Under the Soft Drinks Levy (aka Sugar Tax), drinks with more than 8 g per 100 ml face a tax rate equivalent to 24p per litre. For those containing 5-8 g it is 18p per litre.
Campaign group Action on Sugar stated that by April 2018 more than half of manufacturers had reduced the sugar content of their drinks since the introduction of the levy in order to avoid paying out. They did it largely by reformulating with artificial sweeteners or Stevia.
Between May 2015 and May 2019, sugar intake from soft drinks in Britain fell by a whopping 30.4%. However, Pepsi and Coca-Cola were two notable brands that have not reformulated.