The introduction of the Soft Drinks Sugar Levy on 1 April could increase the amount of illicit soft drinks imported into the UK by up to 20%, an industry expert has warned. 

Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, told RN he felt it inevitable that the levy would increase illegal stock.

“From experience with illicit alcohol and tobacco, the number of illicit soft drinks in the country could increase by up to 20%,” he said. 

He warned retailers that being offered drinks at very low prices would be an indicator the duty had not been paid.  “Retailers should notify authorities if they are offered soft drinks at prices which look too good to be true,” he added.  

Vimto senior customer marketing manager Ed Jones agreed, saying, “The levy opens more opportunities for illicit soft drinks entering the UK.”

Meanwhile, Samantha Coldbeck, of Wharfedale Premier in Hull, warned any illicit trade would harm the reputation of independent retailers. “Rogue businesses make it difficult for responsible retailers. It not only affects competition, but may damage the reputation of independent retailers as a whole if the business doesn’t comply with the high standards of honest store owners,” said Mrs Coldbeck.  

The Federation of Wholesale Distributors chief executive James Bielby added: “It will be hard to tell if the levy has been paid. Unless retailers stick to trusted wholesalers, they could find themselves supporting black market trade.”

The tax will add 18p per litre to the price of drinks with more than 5g of sugar per 100ml. 

Drinks with more than 8g of sugar per 100ml will have 24p per litre added. Producers or importers
of drinks with these levels must by law register with HM Revenue & Customs.

An HMRC spokesperson confirmed those not paying the levy could face financial penalties, but provided no further detail. 

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