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Ribena logo.png
TypeSoft drink/fruit juice concentrate
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Introduced1938; 84 years ago (1938) (H.W. Carter & Co)
Ribena blackcurrant juice drink

Ribena (/rˈbnə/ rye-BEE-nə) is a British-origin brand of blackcurrant-based uncarbonated and carbonated soft drink and fruit drink concentrate. It is available in bottles, cans and multi-packs. It was produced by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) until 2013, when the brand was sold to Suntory.

The brand originally had a strong reputation as a healthy product for children, stemming from its distribution to children as a vitamin C supplement during World War II by the British government. Beecham, a company that has been part of GSK since 2000, bought the brand in 1955 and developed many soft drink versions. A series of scandals in the 2000s, concerning vitamin C levels, sugar levels, and the amounts of actual fruit in some of the brands, damaged its reputation as a healthy product. By 2013, the brand was widely regarded as a soft drink.[1]

In 2013, annual worldwide sales were around £500 million. That year, GSK sold Ribena and another consumer line, Lucozade, to the Japanese multinational Suntory for £1.35 billion. In April 2018, in the United Kingdom, Ribena's longstanding recipe was changed by the addition of artificial sweeteners in response to the introduction of a sugary drinks tax by the UK government.[2]



Ribena was originally manufactured by the Bristol-based food and drink company HW Carter as a blackcurrant squash.[3]: 132–133  Development research into pure fruit syrups for the manufacture of milkshakes had been done at the Long Ashton Agriculture and Horticulture Research Station in North Somerset using a pectinase enzyme process; Ribena was developed by Vernon Charley, a scientist at the University of Bristol[4] in 1933.[5] The blackcurrant variety was found to contain high levels of vitamin C. The drink was named Ribena (from the botanical name of the blackcurrant, Ribes nigrum), by Mr S. M. Lennox of Bristol in 1938.[4]

Second World War[edit]

During the Second World War, other fruits rich in vitamin C, like oranges, became very difficult to obtain in the United Kingdom, due to German submarine attacks on cargo ships. Blackcurrant cultivation was encouraged by the government, and the yield of the nation's crop increased significantly. From 1942, almost the entire British blackcurrant crop was made into blackcurrant syrup (or cordial), almost all of it manufactured by Carters, and it was bought by the government and distributed to the nation's children for free, without the Ribena brand name, giving rise to the lasting popularity of blackcurrant flavourings in Britain.


Production moved to the new Royal Forest Factory[6] at Coleford in the Forest of Dean in late 1947, where production takes place today.

Carters was bought out by the Beecham Group in 1955.[1] In 1989, Beecham and SmithKline Beckman merged to form SmithKline Beecham,[7] and in 2000, SmithKline Beecham and GlaxoWellcome merged to form GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).[8]

Through the years GSK and its predecessors developed many soft drink versions of Ribena but it retained an image as a "healthy food" in the UK and other Commonwealth countries.[1][9]

In 2001, a formulation of the diluted Ribena cordial, sold as Ribena Toothkind (and endorsed by the British Dental Association as being less damaging to teeth than other soft drinks), was judged by the United Kingdom Advertising Standards Authority to have been advertised in a misleading manner, and claims that the drink did not encourage tooth decay should be removed from the packaging. The opinion was upheld by a hearing in the High Court.[10] In 2003, the Food Commission in the United Kingdom criticised the sugar levels in regular Ribena as contributing to childhood obesity.[11]

In 2004, two high school students in New Zealand conducted a science experiment to determine the vitamin C levels of their favourite fruit drinks. They discovered that the "Ready to Drink Ribena" product they tested had undetectable levels of vitamin C, counter to the brand's reputation and advertisements which said that "the blackcurrants in Ribena contain four times the vitamin C of oranges".[9] They contacted GSK, which did not respond to them, and their story was picked up by the television consumer affairs show Fair Go, which broadcast the story nationwide in October 2004.[9] Following further testing, in March 2007, the New Zealand Commerce Commission brought 15 charges in the Auckland District Court against GlaxoSmithKline under the Fair Trading Act.[12] In March 2007, GSK pleaded guilty and was fined NZ$217,500 by Auckland District Court for misleading consumers, and were ordered to run a series of corrective advertisements and place a statement on its website.[13] GSK maintained the issue only affects Australia and New Zealand, and Ribena products sold in other markets, such as the United Kingdom, contain the levels of vitamin C stated on the product label.[14]

In January 2007, a study conducted by the Australian Consumers' Association for Choice magazine reported that blackcurrant juice (from concentrate) only constituted 5% of the Ribena fruit drink product.[15]

By 2013, the brand had annual worldwide sales of about £500 million.[1] In April 2013, GSK put Ribena, along with Lucozade, up for sale to focus on its pharmaceutical business.[1][16] The eventual sale to Japanese company Suntory for £1.35 billion was announced in September 2013.[17]

A sparkling version released in 2011 but discontinued in 2014. It was brought back to supermarket shelves in 2020, launching in two flavours, blackcurrant and raspberry. This was in response to growth in the flavoured carbonate market that year.[18]

See also[edit]

  • Tango – similarly bought by Beecham in the 1950s but sold in 1986
  • Vimto – British soft drink
  • Ramune – Japanese soft drink
  • Lucozade – Drink
  • Cola – Type of carbonated soft drink
  • J2O – Fruit juice based still soft drink


  1. ^ a b c d e "We have Frank and Vernon to thank for Ribena". The Bristol Post. 17 September 2013. Archived from the original on 18 April 2015..
  2. ^ "Sugar tax revolt: Meet the Ribena stockpilers". BBC News. 27 April 2018.
  3. ^ Philip R. Ashurst (2013). Production and Packaging of Non-Carbonated Fruit Juices and Fruit Beverages. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9781475762969..
  4. ^ a b "Bristol Scientist creates Ribena". Bristol: University of Bristol. 27 March 2007. Archived from the original on 10 August 2019. Retrieved 4 September 2011. Dr Vernon Charley, a scientist at the University's Long Ashton Agriculture and Horticulture Research, develops Ribena. It was given its name by a Mr S. M. Lennox of Bristol in 1938 and comes from the Latin name for blackcurrant, Ribes Negrum. The now-famous blackcurrant drink provided an important alternative source of vitamin C during the war years when oranges were in scarce supply and it was produced for free distribution to children by the Ministry of Food
  5. ^ "Brand Profile: Ribena". Archived from the original on 29 April 2014. Retrieved 5 July 2011.
  6. ^ "Old Photos of Coleford and district — H W Carter". Retrieved 31 August 2009.
  7. ^ "Profile: SmithKline Beecham". BBC. 18 December 2000.
  8. ^ "The Glaxo SmithKline merger". BBC News. 17 January 2000.
  9. ^ a b c Tony Jaques (2008). "Pre-publication draft: When an Icon Stumbles – The Ribena Issue Mismanaged" (PDF). Corporate Communications. 13 (4): 394–406. doi:10.1108/13563280810914829..
  10. ^ "Court rules against Ribena". BBC News. 17 January 2001. Retrieved 31 August 2009.
  11. ^ "Soft drinks or liquid candy?". The Food Commission. 29 January 2004. Archived from the original on 3 March 2007.
  12. ^ "Schoolgirls study nabs food giant". The New Zealand Herald. March 2007.
  13. ^ "Ribena maker fined $192,000". The Age. March 2007.
  14. ^ Vasagar, Jeevan (27 March 2007). "Schoolgirls rumble Ribena vitamin claims". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  15. ^ "Foods that make kids fatter faster". Choice. January 2007. Archived from the original on 5 October 2009.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  16. ^ Rupert Neate (24 April 2013). "Lucozade and Ribena up for sale". The Guardian..
  17. ^ Angela Monaghan (9 September 2013). "Ribena and Lucozade sold to Japanese drinks giant". The Guardian..
  18. ^ "Ribena gets busy with the fizzy". Convenience Store. 22 September 2020. Retrieved 17 November 2020.

External links[edit]

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