'Sugar Tax' Works at Jamie Oliver's Restaurants

Jamie Oliver has long been a proponent for healthy eating for kids and points out that sugary drinks are the largest source of sugar in children’s diets. (Photo: Mr Pics/Shutterstock.com)

A year before the U.K. announced it would place a tax on sugary drinks starting April 2018, Jamie Oliver was already "taxing" customers in his restaurants for beverages with added sugar. In September 2015, Jamie's Italian restaurants added a 10 pence levy (about 13 cents) to every sugary drink ordered.

The celebrity chef didn't pocket the extra money from the levy. The money goes to the Children’s Health Fund to finance things like water fountains in schools. Six months after adding the levy, the restaurants had raised about $66,000, according to a Q&A; on Oliver's website.

A drop in sugary beverages consumed

jamie's italian soft drink menu
Jamie's Italian beverage menu. (Photo: Jamie's Italian Restaurant/BMJ Journals)

Oliver's "sugar tax" recently became newsworthy when a study of the changes in sales of non-alcoholic beverages at Jamie’s Italian appeared in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. Within the first 12 weeks of implementation, sugar-sweetened beverage sales fell 11 percent. At the end of six months, they were down 9.3 percent. Additionally, and unexpectedly, all sales of non-alcoholic beverages declined during this time period, except for fruit juices; they went up. (Alcoholic beverage sales were not included in this study.)

The drop in sales of sugary beverages was greater than expected, Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford told The Guardian, saying the news was encouraging "for public health ahead of the introduction of the soft drink industry levy next year."

Is it just the money?

There were a few things happening simultaneously when Oliver's restaurants started adding that additional tax. The celebrity chef — who is known for speaking out and campaigning for healthy food for everyone — was starring in "Jamie's Sugar Rush," a TV documentary about sugar drinks and children's health. Oliver was already educating the public.

When the levy began, Jamie's Italian changed its menus, adding information about the charge and separating the sugary beverages with the tax from the beverages without the tax. The redesigned menu, shown above, also educated customers about sugar consumption and children. Parents confronted with that information are forced to think twice when ordering for their children. It's not hard to imagine parents steering their kids to the bottom half of the menu, not because they want to save money, but because they want their children to drink something healthier.

Additionally, Jamie's Italian is the only restaurant in the study. It does not look into whether similar restaurants — ones that did not tax sugary drinks — saw a decrease in sales during the same time.

Many in the U.K. are now wondering if the reduction in sugary drink consumption seen at Oliver's restaurants will also be seen next year when the sugary drink tax kicks in.