The most terrifying part about the new nutrition labels—rated A to D from healthiest to unhealthiest—is that packaged drinks falling under Nutri-Grade Mark D are prohibited from advertising their drinks.
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Drinks rated C and D must have a nutrition label to signify its high sugar and saturated fat contents.
For bubble tea shops, the mandatory Nutri-Grade ratings is a whole different kind of headache because levels of sugar and saturated fat are incredibly susceptible to change since customers are allowed to select their own sugar levels.
For instance, a milk tea could be rated B at 15% sugar level but 50% and above means that the drink will slide into a C rating, where nutrition labelling becomes compulsory. Additionally, if the milk tea is at 100% sugar level and its Nutri-Grade rating becomes a D, does this mean that the whole drink can no longer be advertised?
Given that, do bubble tea shops have to rate every drink four times for each sugar level, just in case? Can you imagine the additional stickers they have to print?
Changing the Recipes
In order to stay ahead of the changes that kick in on 30 December, bubble tea shops have begun tweaking their recipes to reduce the saturated fat and sugar levels.
For Milksha, their first challenge is to reduce the saturated fat levels as they use full-cream milk.
Sure, there are alternatives like low-fat milk or plant-based milk, but it will probably affect the taste and may not be the customer’s cup of tea.
Therefore, the solution that Milksha is leaning towards is to provide more options like cafés, even if they will run the risk of extra wastage.
Heytea, Hey Troubles
Likewise, for Heytea, the bubble tea franchise with five outlets in Singapore, they would prefer to avoid the advertising ban for the drinks.
It is contrary to their maxim of offering healthier drinks with natural ingredients.
Heytea has already reached out to the research and development team in the brand’s China headquarters so that the drinks can be reformulated to fit the new nutritional labelling, said Heytea Singapore’s brand director Jonathan Chan.
Another problem that Mr Chan highlights is the fact it is not specified what ingredients are included in the overall sugar and saturated content.
For example, do toppings like taro pearls, tapioca balls, sago, fruity jelly or highland barely count? Do these ingredients add on to the sugar levels that the authorities are concerned about?
Secondly, because Heytea uses fresh juice and other agricultural products in their drinks, every batch will have different results when tested.
Fruits like strawberries, oranges and lemons can possess varying sugar content depending on their growing conditions. And Heytea has many suppliers for their fruits, who may also collect their supply from different farms.
Mr Chan stated that they have reached out to the authorities for further clarification.
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Too Many Drinks
For Each-a-Cup, they are presented with a huge challenge as they have 140 drinks on its menu.
According to the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Health Promotion Board (HPB), it is acceptable for establishments to grade their beverages by estimating their sugar and saturated fat content from individual ingredients, instead of using laboratory analysis to find out the exact information.
It definitely simplifies the progress, but some operators are saying that the one-year preparation time is not sufficient, and they may require financial assistance to offset the implementation costs.
Even then, it will take a lot of work and time for Each-A-Cup to ensure that they are complying with the rules.
Besides asking for the nutritional information from its Taiwan suppliers, Each-a-Cup is taking an extra step to contact laboratories for nutrition analysis, and it could cost around $50,000 to get all their products tested.
They also have 57 outlets—think about all the sign boards and menus they need to change.
Each-a-Cup’s business development manager Ivan Tan hopes that the government will provide subsidies (one can dream), as well as a nutritionist that can offer advice and insight into the grading system and its implementation.
It is more than likely that bubble tea shops will overhaul their existing menus to suit the new nutrition labelling, and we may be seeing new drinks and options on the menus next year.
Kind of, you know, like the Coke you see in supermarkets nowadays.
As long as the drink prices don’t increase too drastically to cover the costs, everything should be fine.
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Featured Image: Shutterstock / NeedSwanya
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