I am delighted to hear the recent news about the launch (on Dec 1st) of a new voluntary e-label scheme developed by CEEV and SpiritsEUROPE. It aims to encourage wine and spirit producers to display nutritional information, calorie content, allergens advice etc. on their bottles.
It’s a great idea, but it won’t work. It doesn’t protect consumers or ensure they can access the information they need and want in order to make informed decisions, and it most certainly doesn’t go far enough. Let me explain why.
A step towards transparency
The platform, called ‘U-Label’ uses QR code technology to allow consumers to see not only the ingredients, nutritional content, sugar content and so on, but also the supply chain, where ingredients are sourced from, whether they are sustainable and use good working practices.
For me, this is a step towards what I have felt for a very long time is essential for the alcoholic drinks industry – transparency.
Consumers want to know what they are buying. For every other food item, they automatically get a list of ingredients on the packet – but alcoholic beverages are exempt. This makes no sense. How are consumers to make informed decisions about what they drink and how they spend their money if all the important information is hidden from them?
What do current labels fail to tell you?
At Brand Relations, we have been looking closely at the beverages available and, more precisely, what they do not tell you on the label.
Let’s look at craft beer which is a huge trend at the moment. What would you expect the sugar and calorie content of a craft beer to be? One chocolate stout brand we looked at, for example, contained 320 calories. That’s the equivalent of over two cans of Coca Cola. Similarly, the fashionable new pink and flavoured gins are packed with sugar. That is what makes them taste so good.
The Sugar Tax was introduced to help tackle obesity. As many alcoholic drinks contain large amounts of sugar why doesn’t the tax, and associated labelling apply to them?
At the start of 2021 the Wine & Spirit Body introduced labelling rules for Lo & No Alcohol Drinks to bring them in line with other food products – but once again completely ignored alcoholic drinks. https://www.wsta.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/2021Guideonlabellinglowandnoalcohol-1.pdf This makes their claims to care about customers utterly laughable.
Voluntary disclosure won’t work
Given the extent of the issue can you really see the alcohol beverage brands voluntarily offering information about the sugar content, calories and other nasties their drinks contain? I cannot.
For many drinks, including premium ciders and craft beers, if their nutritional contents were displayed on the cans or even via a QR code they would likely see a dramatic loss in sales, not to mention consumer trust. In order to be prepared to display their nutritional information, I believe they would be forced to reformulate their drinks – which no one wants to do. So, unless everyone is displaying the information (which will only happen with government legislation), no one will do it. A voluntary approach simply won’t work.
Finally, it is worth noting that this scheme is voluntary in the EU. I would ask the UK government, now that we don’t have to be guided by the EU on this issue, why can’t we make it compulsory in the UK?
It is good that we have an accessible voluntary labelling scheme being introduced. It is a positive step forward. However, as I am sure full labelling on alcoholic beverages will be brought in eventually it should be moved up the government’s list of priorities.