Health campaign group Action on Sugar – which has previously lambasted products including breakfast biscuits  has now turned its guns on the cake market.

A new study by the group has revealed “staggering” levels of sugar and calories in cakes sold in Britain’s coffee shops.

Researchers looked at 67 ‘fruity’ cakes – lemon, blueberry and carrot – and found that Pret A Manger’s Lemon Drizzle Slice contained 18 teaspoons of sugar and 698 calories a slice.

Starbucks’ Christmas Carrot Cake weighed in next, at 15 teaspoons of sugar and 616 calories a serving, followed by Pret’s Double Berry Muffins with 10 teaspoons of sugar and 512 calories.

Pret said the Lemon Drizzle cake and a Triple Chocolate cake in the Action on Sugar study had only been on trial in a few stores and would not be available from next week (see below).

Action on Sugar also revealed big differences in sugar content, with a Caffè Nero Lemon Poppyseed Muffin containing eight teaspoons of sugar – three less than a similar choice in Starbucks.

Supermarket products fared better than their foodservice counterparts – partly as a result of smaller portion sizes – and campaigners said immediate action was needed from cafés.

“It’s ludicrous that popular coffee shops are serving slices of cake containing over 600 calories and 18 teaspoons of sugar,” said Action on Sugar researcher and registered nutritionist Kawther Hashem.

“To burn off this many calories you’d need to walk for more than two hours. Cakes, biscuits and puddings should be an occasional food, but people are consuming these products regularly without realising the amount of energy required to burn off this many calories.”

Action on Sugar campaign manager Jenny Rosborough, also a registered nutritionist, said considering people were likely to buy a hot beverage to eat with their cake, it was “far too easy” to consume almost 1,000 calories in one sitting.

“Everyone should be able to enjoy cake, but there is no need for just one slice to exceed an adult’s maximum daily recommendation of sugar by almost three times.”

In August, the government published Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action, which urges businesses, including bakers, to cut the amount of sugar in their products by 20% over the next four years.

Among the plans – which included a previously announced ‘sugar tax’ on soft drinks and efforts to make young children more active – is “a broad, structured sugar reduction program to remove sugar from the products children eat most”.

The coffee chains respond

Costa: “We are committed to delivering added sugar reduction in our food and drinks range and supporting Public Health England’s voluntary sugar reduction programme. We will do this through a mix of reformulating existing products and introducing new healthier and lighter products to our portfolio. We will continue to provide Action on Sugar ongoing updates on our work to reduce added sugar.”

Starbucks: “We are committed to working towards Public Health England’s sugar reduction targets by 2020, as part of our overall health and wellness commitments,” said Sara Bruce-Goodwin, vice-president research and development, quality and regulatory at Starbucks EMEA. “We display nutritional information on our bakery labels and website to help our customers make informed choices."

Starbucks added that it offers its customers a wide choice in its bakery range, including a Skinny Blueberry Muffin that has 30% fewer calories compared to its Classic Blueberry Muffin and is returning to stores in January 2017. 

The business is also working on a reduced-calorie and sugar carrot cake recipe that it plans to launch around spring next year.

Pret A Manger: “The Lemon Drizzle and Triple Chocolate cake slices mentioned have been on trial in a handful of our regional shops. The trial ends next week and the cake slices will no longer be available. We will revert back to only selling smaller, individual cake portions, instead of these larger slices.

“The calorie information for our cakes continues to be displayed in shops, and the full nutritional information is available on our website.”