Friday, 7 December 2018

Steering the Coca-Cola Christmas trucks off course in 2018

Guest post by Beth Bradshaw, Alex Holt and Robin Ireland, Food Active

You may remember our guest blog for Fuse from last year, which discussed the media frenzy that goes into overdrive when the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck Tour sets off on its journey across various locations in the UK. We also noted our own campaigns and the efforts of others such as SUGAR SMART to make the case against welcoming the truck into towns and cities already grappling with a childhood obesity and oral health crisis.
Every year, we are met with growing support from the public health community and the public including GPs, dentists, teachers and parents. Last year Public Health England issued guidance to local authorities about hosting the Coca-Cola truck. However, there was also some criticism of our position, especially where we were seen as ‘spoiling’ Christmas in some way.

However, this year, things seem to be different. We feel a change in the air this festive period with a scaling back of the Coca-Cola tour, both in terms of numbers of locations and less prominent venues.

There are a number of important changes that have happened both in the build-up and the start of the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck Tour for 2018. While these might appear small, together they demonstrate quite a significant shift by the soft drinks corporate giant.

This year, the Coke Truck allowed just three days between the announcement of the tour and its start, compared to 11 days last year. Within this time frame, SUGAR SMART coordinated an open letter to Coca-Cola bosses with over 40 signatories from local authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups, and national campaign groups to oppose the truck visiting their areas [1]. This meant there was time to coordinate responses both nationally and locally, including a series of Tooth Fairy stunts, and for noise to be made to create negative publicity before the truck had even arrived.

The Coke Truck vs the Tooth Fairies
Another important shift is the size of the tour – downsizing by over a third (37% to be exact), from 38 stops last year to just 24 this year. The 2018 tour is also visiting some much smaller locations - the media has called it ‘snubbing’ cities such as Milton Keynes and Liverpool - and there are just four visits on council-owned land. We are pleased to see so few local authorities allowing the truck on council-owned land but would urge those that are welcoming the truck to seriously consider whether this is in the best interest of their local population.

There are also more stops hosted on supermarket car parks this year, with as many as ten of the stops to Asda and Tesco. The same Tesco that announced a five-year ‘strategic partnership’ with national health charities including the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK to help ‘remove barriers to healthy habits’ earlier this year. A Coca-Cola truck pitching up in their car park is certainly a barrier to healthier habits, both literally and figuratively speaking. This move has also been met with criticism and Sustain and SUGAR SMART are calling on the public to write to Asda and Tesco to ask them to reconsider hosting the truck next year. On taking this action ourselves, we received a response from Asda customer relations which said:
“We have been in conversation with Coca-Cola prior to this tour and we are happy that they will be encouraging customers to sample their sugar-free brands. They will only provide Red Coke on request and they estimate that at least 90% of their drinks sampled will be sugar free.”
As of yet and unsurprisingly, we have had no response from Tesco.

Asda’s response is consistent with the quote provided by Coca-Cola’s press release, which also appears to have satisfied Public Health England’s concerns, as they have decided not to respond to the truck this year.

Finally, in the North West of England (where Food Active is based), the truck is visiting just one city in the region compared to six visits in 2016 and four in 2017. Over the past four years, Food Active has been lobbying against the arrival of the truck in the North West, including publishing an article in the British Medical Journal [2], writing an open letter to local and national press (with over 100 signatories) and supporting SUGAR SMART’s open letters to Coca-Cola bosses. We hope that this continued pressure, even in the face of significant criticism, has helped to steer the Coke truck away from the North West.

However, we know the battle is by no means over - 14 of the 19 stops in England have above average prevalence of excess weight amongst 10-11 years old, and in some locations including Manchester, over 30% of the children have experienced tooth decay.

Last year, our blog concluded that “our experience shows us that public health has to be persistent in ensuring our messages are heard in the current victim-blaming culture”. This statement is perhaps even more validated following this year’s experiences.

In the spirit of good will this Christmas, we thank Coca-Cola for helping more of our local authorities in the North West to help tackle issues of childhood obesity and dental decay in their areas - many of which are already disproportionately burdened with deprivation and health inequalities.


  1. Ireland, R and Ashton, J.R. (2017) “Happy corporate holidays from Coca-Cola” i8633. Available at:
  2. SUGAR SMART (2017) Spending holidays in good health. Available at:
  1. Courtesy of Beth Bradshaw
  2. With thanks to Sustain and Sugar Smart UK: 


  1. Tooth decay at an all time low, sugar consumption down since the 1970s and childhood obesity ( even under the current daft measurement ) is not a crisis, in fact the levels of 2005 haven't been exceeded.
    So yes, the accusations of spoiling people's fun, especially in deprived communities, is valid. Imv, of course.

  2. What does deprivation even mean in this context and how does wanting to stop the Coca-Cola truck help? I mean, the people you claim to care about have less joy in their lives that people who are not deprived, are more likely to benefit from being given stuff for free, and to benefit from a night of modest activity out of the house rather than staying in.
    Yet here you are, opposing this, and funded by the same organisation that subsidises the producers of sugar so it is cheaper than if the price were left to the UK market and penalises the consumers of sugar by applying extra taxes. It's like living under the Corn Laws ( almost ) with an added dose of kill joy nanny statism that in order to justify itself seems to think child obesity rates are high compared to 2005 and likewise tooth decay.

  3. " ‘Open science' is about the free sharing of all parts of the research process.
    Everyone is welcome to take part in the debate - just leave a comment."
    So when someone points out that there is no oral health crisis ( example ), instead of gathering some evidence, and supporting your claim paid for by taxpayers, you delete the comment.
    That's hardly open scientific enquiry. Shills.