Front Page
November 17, 2006

Sweet drinks may soon be barred from schools

“Sweet drinks” may soon be banned from school cafeterias, and while it is good news for health advocates, it has left a sour taste for a major soft drink manufacturer who stands to lose millions of dollars.

“Banning the use of soft drinks in schools, I believe that certainly soon we will reach that point.” Health Minister Dr Douglas Slater told SEARCHLIGHT adding that the search is now on for a healthy and nutritious alternative.{{more}}

He said that on the heels of the recent launch of the $1 million National Food Based Dietary Guidelines that the nation must push towards improving the health of our children, one step at a time.

However, Sales and Marketing Manager of Bottlers (St Vincent) Ltd, Brian Perreira, said it is bad news because the schools are a major market and his company was investing $6 million in new plant equipment.

“The new facility will be producing plastic bottles and we were targeting schools where we want to phase out the sale of our products in glass bottles,” Perreira said, absolutely shocked and stunned at the news.

He said that he was skeptical as to how such a ban would work because the soft drinks were the affordable and popular drinks that people, including children were accustomed to.

Perreira told SEARCHLIGHT that his company had always contributed a lot of money into schools and if such a ban was introduced, the contributions could dry up.

His competitor, St Vincent Brewery Limited, however has thrown its support behind the health ministry’s plan.

“Sodas are not healthy, they have too much sugar and too much CO2s (gas) and we will support a move towards encouraging the use of fruit based drinks in schools,” Managing Director Hans Moser said.

Fruit juice contains about half the calories as a soft drink.

He told SEARCHLIGHT that as a result of what is becoming a world trend of shifting to healthier, fruit based drinks, his company will be willing to adjust and explore such an option in addition to their current operation.

Internationally, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation – a joint initiative of the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association – has worked with representatives of major soft drink companies including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, to establish new guidelines to limit portion sizes and reduce the number of calories available to American children during the school day.

Under these guidelines, only lower calorie and nutritious beverages will be sold to schools.

Perreira said that while he agrees with the concept it was easy for giant companies like Coca Cola and PepsiCo because they already have other products that can cushion loses.

“Coke has Minute Maid and Pepsi has Tropicana juices so they are still going to benefit tremendously, in St Vincent and the Grenadines it is a different ball game,” said Perreira.

He was concerned about home made juice products.

“How safe are these drinks that people make, who knows the quality of the water they use and what about their sanitation practices, next thing we could see an outbreak of diseases,” he said.

When the National Food Based Dietary Guidelines were launched Dr Slater said there was need to utilize local fruits more.