World News

Irn Bru, a Scottish Favorite, Loses Some Sugar

Posted January 5, 2018 4:29 p.m. EST

LONDON — It’s orange, fizzy and tastes like liquid bubble gum.

And while whisky is Scotland’s national drink to the world, to many locals, Irn Bru is a close second.

The company that makes Irn Bru says it will reduce the amount of sugar in its iconic drink this month, a change that has caused an uproar among its large fan base. The change in recipe, widely attributed to a new soda tax that comes into force in Britain this year, has also led to reports of panic buying in Scottish supermarkets.

“It’s one of our symbols of being unique and different in the way we feel about ourselves,” said Stephen M. Blythe, a technology lawyer in Glasgow.

After he saw an announcement on the company’s website about the change in his favorite drink, he set up a Facebook page to try to stop the recipe alteration. He has since joined forces with another man who began a petition for the cause.

Some have compared the recipe change to the “new Coke” blunder of 1985. At the time, Coca-Cola replaced its century-old formula with a sweeter drink, only to put “Classic Coke” back on the shelves less than three months later, after facing angry customer complaints.

The makers of Irn Bru, in a series of candid communications with consumers on social media, responded promptly to the growing concerns.

“We’ve done a shed-load of tests on this,” read one message from Irn Bru’s official Twitter account. “We hope you’ll agree it still tastes amazing.”

But unlike the irritated Coke customers of three decades ago, Irn Bru’s fans have social media at their disposal, and opponents of the change have been vocal.

A Short History of Irn Bru

The orange-colored fizz first had its debut in 1901 under the name Iron Brew from a secret recipe, known only to three people. The company’s former chairman still mixes the formula. The family-run company that manufactures the drink, A.G. Barr, renamed its beverage Irn Bru after World War II, when new British rules required names to reflect what products actually contained.

The drink does contain ammonium ferric citrate, which is technically iron, but it is not brewed. The new name, however, didn’t keep the company from using a new slogan, later made famous by decades of advertising: “Irn Bru, made in Scotland from Girders,” pronounced with rolled Rs, of course.

A spokesman for A.G. Barr said there have been recipe variations over the years, including during World War II, when sugar was in short supply, but they haven’t interfered with the original secret formula.

Why Do People Like It So Much?

The Irn Bru brand is closely associated with Scotland, and the company’s marketing has played on that persona for decades. Scotland — a largely self-governing entity within Britain with a strong independence movement — has a distinct national identity. Irn Bru is seen as quintessentially Scottish and associated with strength, but also with awkwardness and a wry sense of humor.

“The sense of humor, everything that is baked into the Irn Bru personality, matches the Scottish persona,” said Blythe, the man behind the movement to keep the current recipe.

While Scots are not the only ones who drink Irn Bru in Britain, sales of the drink soared in the British Parliament after the largest contingent yet of the Scottish National Party members won seats, The Guardian reported. It gave parliamentarians “sustenance,” one Scottish member said.

How Irn Bru’s Sugar Content Stacks Up

Coke sold in Britain currently contains slightly more sugar than Irn Bru, with 35 grams of the white stuff in an average can, compared with Irn Bru’s 34 grams. The new recipe will contain around 15.5 grams in a can (which is still about 4 teaspoons).

Some worry that cutting out the sugar will lessen Irn Bru’s purported hangover curative powers.

Other popular drinks, like Dr Pepper, Fanta and Sprite, have lost up to 30 percent of their sugar content, to no apparent consumer uproar and without affecting sales.

Even as some are lamenting the change in their favorite beverage, others see the reduction of sugar in Irn Bru as just a small step in the right direction.