Detox the kids! The bogeyman is in your fridge

So you thought Sunny Delight was good for the children and they loved it? You know life isn't like that.

IT WAS the drink that came from nowhere. Sunny Delight. The name itself was soothing, a reminder of pastoral simplicity, a lost world away from Cola wars and "lifestyle" marketing. Let Lucozade dazzle with state- of-the-art computer graphics, let Tango fizz over with post-modern irony, Sunny Delight was content to slip into the chill cabinet and stand shoulder to shoulder with the milk and the freshly squeezed juices. Soon we were on first-name terms with this unassuming little drink. "Sunny D" made itself indispensable in fridges throughout the land, softening up the mums with a few well-placed words about vitamins and entrancing children with its delicious formula. And now, just look! Old Sunny, like some insidious stranger in a Pinter drama, has smashed the competition, and been named this week as the most successful new brand of the decade.

It's the taste, you see. Like orange juice, only nicer. Maybe its those vaunted vitamins A, B(1&6) and C that put this "enriched citrus beverage" in a class of its own, encouraging us to swill down pounds 160m worth of the stuff in the past 12 months. Kids across the country are going glassy- eyed with desire for the stuff, while mums who view Coca-Cola as Satan's Spume and wouldn't be caught dead with a carton of Um-Bongo in their Waitrose trolley, are happy to tuck a bottle of Sunny Delight into their childrens' lunchbox alongside the wholemeal pitta parcel and the carrot sticks.

Now, however, with the announcement from the Food Commission, the Home Counties will resound to the gurgling and rumbling of an en masse detox programme. For the secret ingredient in Sunny Delight has been revealed to be none other than our old friend, refined white sugar. The Food Commission, an independent watchdog, spared no blushes when it announced that "The image [of Sunny Delight] comes across as a very healthy fresh fruit juice drink and mums think its good for their children. In fact, it is full of thickeners, colours and flavourings to make it look like a fruit juice, when it's basically just a very sugary drink. Basically, it's just a marketing con."

The shock could hardly be greater if Winnie the Pooh had been found making crack cocaine in the Hundred Acre Wood. At just under 5 per cent fruit juice, a fact which, to be fair, is there for all to see on every bottle, Sunny D weighs in well under Tango and Fanta in the nutritional stakes. The ingredients, in scrupulously descending order, are water, sucrose and fruit juice, all stirred up with carboxy methyl cellulose, xanthum gum and a slew of other additives. It is probably no worse than any other soft drink, fizzy or not, aimed at the lucrative children's market, but the point is, we thought it was better. We loved the brisk efficiency of the chiller cabinet (there is actually no need for Sunny Delight to be kept in the fridge. Unlike milk or fresh fruit juices, it does not require a particularly cool temperature to remain in optimum condition. When the world has ended, one begins to fear, there will still be cockroaches and Sunny Delight).

We loved the idea of being enriched by vitamins and, most of all, we loved the idea of being loved. For this was the really insidious ingredient in Sunny Delight's pounds 9m marketing strategy. Remember how the mum in the ad nearly falls over backwards when her desultory brat says "thank you" for his drink? Here at last was a drink that would make our children strong and healthy - and appreciative.

Heigh-ho. Sic transit gloria mumsi. My own tip is to save the Sunny D bottles and decant fresh orange juice. My own daughter and son are just about young enough to fall for this one. If, however, you find your children slumping back into their customary stupor, simply add six teaspoons of sugar to each glass. Then go out and get drunk over your failure to live up to the telly-ideal. And what to do with the Sunny Delight lake which now threatens to engulf us? I have it on the most reliable authority that it is wonderful for hangovers.

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