News / Sugar Smart UK

UK loses the taste for the Coke truck

Coke truck tour 37% shorter than last year as local opposition grows, with evidence emerging that local authorities are refusing Coke permission to park on their land. Over 80 groups and local authorities, and campaigners including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall sign letter calling for Coca-Cola to stop giving out free sugary drinks, with the truck targetting areas with some of the worst dietary health problems. ASDA and Tesco now under pressure to stop hosting the truck. 

Coke appears to have cut short its UK Christmas Truck Tour this year, with 37% fewer stops planned than last year. Usually the tour, which first started in 1995, would be hosted by Local Authorities and other landowners as part of their Christmas festivities. However, last year, in response to considerable local opposition, co-ordinated by the SUGAR SMART campaign, Public Health England issued guidance to local authorities warning about the impact seasonal marketing promotions can have on diet-related diseases. Local responses included protests in Glasgow, Waltham Forest, Plymouth, Greenwich and Bristol, with other areas writing letters of protest to Coca-Cola and the truck tours hosts, with some cities including Carlisle and Liverpool not inviting the truck back on public land this year.

This year, 83 organisations and health campaigners have signed a letter calling on Coca-Cola to stop distributing sugary drinks through its Christmas Truck Tour. The letter, coordinated by the SUGAR SMART campaign, includes signatures from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Baroness Boycott, 44 national organisations including the Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, Sustain, World Cancer Research Fund International, Royal Society of Public Health and the Obesity Health Alliance, and 27 local areas around the UK.

As with last year, the Coca-Cola Truck is visiting areas that have worse than average health problems relating to diet-related disease. 14 of the 19 stops in England have above average prevalence of excess weight amongst 10-11 years olds, and some locations including Manchester, Leeds and Peterborough over 30% of the children have experienced tooth decay.

With fewer appearances on council-owned land, almost half of the truck tour’s stops are on supermarket land, with ASDA and Tesco hosting five stops each. The decision from the supermarkets to host the truck has come under criticism from health campaigners for giving a platform to Coca-Cola to promote their products and increase sales, particularly considering the diet related health problems in the areas visited. The charity Sustain has launched an action at the start of Sugar Awareness Week calling on Tesco and ASDA to stop Coca-Cola from handing out sugary drinks on their land.

Ben Reynolds, Deputy Chief Executive of Sustain, commented: “The decision from some supermarkets to give a platform to Coca-Cola to promote their products and increase sales is disappointing, particularly as the truck is visiting areas with some of the worst diet-related health problems in the UK. It contradicts other messaging from the supermarkets on healthy eating, and feels out of step with the times.”

Vera Zakharov, SUGAR SMART UK Campaign Coordinator said: “It is welcome news that Local Authorities are turning their backs on sugary drinks promotions. Hosting the Christmas Truck Tour is incompatible with their drive to reduce diet-related disease. Bizarrely, Coca-Cola equates handing out their sugary products with the start of the cherished holiday season, which has nothing to do with fizzy drinks. But this strategy takes on a sinister tone when you consider that the Coke Truck visits areas with some of the worst health problems in the country.

Richard Kemp, a Liverpool Councillor, responded on why he has signed the letter, "Most councils with public health responsibility have childhood obesity as their number one Public Health priority. However some of them forget that when they reissue Coca-Cola press releases which claim that Christmas can now start because the Coca Cola truck has arrived. Of course the occasional drink of a Cola is ok but this company continually relate their product to wellbeing. This is entirely untrue."

Open letter to Coca Cola:

Let’s spread holiday cheer, not diet-related diseases, this festive season

We write to you to express our deep concern over the Coca-Cola’s company’s continued promotion of sugary drinks to children, young people and the general population during the holiday season. At a time when childhood obesity rates have reached record highs, such promotional tactics are not just in poor taste – they urgently need to be brought to a halt.

The signatories of this letter include Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Baroness Boycott, Directors of Public Health, elected members, public health advocacy organisations and local healthy eating campaign coordinators, and we collectively request that Coca-Cola change its current Christmas Truck Tour promotional strategy by stopping the free distribution of Coca-Cola original taste.

Childhood obesity figures have again risen this year and show no signs of slowing down. The latest figures reveal that almost one in four children are overweight or obese when they start primary school and over one in three by the time they leave primary school1. If we don’t take drastic action, half of all UK children will be overweight or obese by 2020.

This year is also marked by a rise in hospital admissions for tooth extraction – up to 26,111 hospital admissions for tooth decay among five to nine-year-olds, and tooth decay is the leading cause of admissions for this age group2. And nearly a half of 15 year olds in the UK have tooth decay in their permanent teeth.

Even more worryingly, the above figures are dramatically worse for children and young people living in deprived communities.

While there is a growing network of SUGAR SMART campaigns across the UK working with local organisations, education settings, businesses and individuals to reduce sugar overconsumption and improve local food environments, their brilliant work is being undone by such marketing tactics promoting products high in sugar. Even one 150ml can of Classic Coke contains over 16 grams of sugar, nearly the entire maximum daily limit for a 6-year-old. And of course, there is no safe sugar limit to avoid tooth decay.

It’s with these less than cheerful figures in mind that we ask you to stop promoting sugary drinks during the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck Tour to the general public this year - in particular to children.

Wishing you and everyone in the UK a holiday season in good health,

The Undersigned
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Baroness Rosie Boycott
Andy Burman, Chief Executive, British Dietetic Association
Ben Reynolds, Deputy Chief Executive, Sustain
Caroline Cerny, Alliance Lead, Obesity Health Alliance
Dr Giota Mitrou, Acting Director of Research and Public Affairs, World Cancer Research Fund International
Dr Ian Mills, Dean, The Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK)
Mick Armstrong, Chair, British Dental Association
Professor Michael Escudier, Dean, Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons
Russell Viner, President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive, Royal Society for Public Health
(Full list of Signatures available here)


Tell Tesco and Asda to stop handing out the full sugar Coca-Cola original taste

Take action

For media enquiries please contact Ben Reynolds on 07939202711


1.  A copy of the letter with full list of signatories is available here

2. The action, launched by the charity Sustain, calls on ASDA and TESCO to commit to not allowing hand-outs of sugary drinks on their land, and to review their position about inviting the Coke truck back next year. The action, which is using the twitter #GetTheTruckOut, can be found here:

3. The Coca Cola Truck Tour visited 38 cities in 2017, and visits 24 cities this year. Full list of tour dates is available here: 

4. SUGAR SMART is a campaign run by food charity Sustain through the Sustainable Food Cities nework, working with councils, businesses, institutions and other sectors to help reduce overconsumption of sugar in their local areas. SUGAR SMART supports local campaigns to take on a cross-sector approach to transform their food environment and raise public awareness of the impacts of consuming too much sugar. There are currently 49 local campaigns within the network, with more in the process of joining.

  • Sustainable Food Cities is a movement of 51 towns, cities, boroughs and counties that share the same approach for transforming food and food culture. The Sustainable Food Cities approach is about establishing an effective cross-sector food partnership of key stakeholders (public agencies, businesses, NGOs, academics), incorporating healthy and sustainable food into local policy, and delivering a food strategy to tackle key food challenges in the local area.
  • Sugar Awareness Week runs from 12 – 18 November, and is coordinated by Action on Sugar

Sustain annual conference - 8 December

Book now

Published 14 Nov 2018

Sugar Smart UK: Want your local area to become Sugar Smart?

Latest related news


Sustain annual conference - 8 December

Support our campaign

Your donation will help communities and organisations to take action to reduce the sugar we all consume.


The Green House
244-254 Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 9DA

020 3559 6777

Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

© Sustain 2022
Registered charity (no. 1018643)
Data privacy & cookies