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A Supermarket Banned a Sugary Children’s Drink and the Internet Went Crazy

Yesterday, Tesco announced that it would no longer be selling small cartons of kids’ juice drinks Capri Sun, Rubicon, and crucially, Ribena—a decision that has spawned its own #Ribenagate Twitter storm.
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB
Photo via Flickr user Sherene

For many Britons, Ribena isn't just a blackcurrant-based soft drink. It's a palm-sized box of juicy memories, complete with handy, nostalgia-inhaling straw. The after-school drink that divided the blackcurrant kids from the orange squash ones and part of that weird, hot syrupy concoction your mum made you drink when you got caught in the rain without a Pac-A-Mac. If you close your eyes, you can still taste the heady hit of Ribena Strawberry you drunk your entire body weight in one summer (in between all the headstands and Tamagotchi upkeep).


Basically, Ribena is kind of a big deal for Brits—something Tesco recently found out the hard way.

Yesterday, the British supermarket chain announced that it would no longer be selling small cartons of kids' juice drinks Capri Sun, Rubicon, and crucially, Ribena in a push to reduce the number of sugary drinks marketed at children in its stores.

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Tesco's ban on the drinks, which contain between 119 to 135 calories in their "lunch box-sized" cartons, will take force in September. The supermarket will continue to sell sugar-free cartons and 500 millilitre cordial bottles of Ribena, however.

"This is part of our ten point plan against obesity and we have decided that from September we will only sell no-added-sugar drinks in the kids' juice category," Tesco's soft drinks buying manager David Beardmore explained to The Grocer. "Most of the suppliers are supportive of it and understand what we are doing."

Reducing the sale of sugar-laden children's drinks in an effort to tackle Britain's escalating obesity crisis sounds pretty responsible, right?

You might need to read the above part about how Ribena. Is. Kind. Of. A. Big. Deal. again.

Since news broke of Tesco's Ribena crackdown, fans of the sugary drink have taken to Twitter air their grievances. Under the hashtag #Ribena, complaints range from the nostalgic ("I'm a big fan of #Ribena and have been drinking it all my life. My daughter now enjoys drinking it") to the confusingly nationalist ("Don't know why the immigrants are trying so hard to get in the country. Don't they know about the #Ribena situation?"—thanks, @thed2thep).


As ever, the 140-character comedians soon followed suit. "I was going to drink some #Ribena - but watered it down with #Tesco vodka to make it healthy" tweeted Dave Williams, while Russell Clarke pointed out that "#Tesco have banned #Ribena for being too sugary. But I can still buy a cake larger than my head. Or Krispy Kreme. Or gin.."

Meanwhile @n_jobz had racked up a respectable 21 retweets at the time of writing for his puntastic: "Tesco banning #Ribena mean that people are going to start selling it on the black(currant) market." LOL!!!!

And where would a Twitter storm be without its memes? Ribenagate (of course it's being called "Ribenagate") has already earned a Breaking Bad Photoshop job, as well as a few slow-clapping Joffreys .gifs for Tesco itself. Oh, the shame.

While Twitter commentators may be going to town on Tesco's "nanny state" decision, which comes a year after the supermarket vowed to reduce the sugar content of its soft drinks by 5 percent, the move is being welcomed by some health campaigners.

Malcolm Clark, coordinator of the Children's Food Campaign told The Independent: "It should be about helping change the sweetness profile of children's taste and trying to start educating children's pallets so they don't need so much sugar in all sorts of different products," but added that "all retailers should be looking at how to cut sugar from all their products which make up the family shopping basket."

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Indeed, Ribena may not be as sweet as it seems. GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical company who owned Ribena until 2013 was sued by a New Zealand consumer watchdog in 2007 for making misleading claims over levels of vitamin C in the drink and last year, the Advertising Standards Authority criticised the wording in adverts for the supposedly vitamin-fortified Ribena Plus variety.

Of course, Ribena isn't the only sugary liquid rotting children's teeth and Tesco will continue to sell the equally unhealthy Coca Cola and Red Bull (Sainsbury's is also on hand to pick up any Ribena-addicted defectors), but if Ribenagate and San Francisco's recent struggle to impose health warnings on soda labels reveal anything, it's that getting human beings off the sugary drinks won't be an easy task.