Most consumers want to know about the ingredients in the food and the drink they consume. And on the 1st December a new voluntary e-label scheme for alcoholic beverages was launched.
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. Belle About Town spoke to Richard Horwell of Brand Relations about the implications of the new scheme. Brand Relations is a specialist food and drink marketing and branding company based in London. Over the last 13 years, Brand Relations has been behind the launch and development of over 100 brands in the UK. This is what Richard told us…
What is in the alcohol we drink?
Richard: Consumers picking up an alcoholic drink from the supermarket will, of course, be aware of the alcohol content (or ABV) and how many units of alcohol that bottle or can of drink contains. But what else is in there? The average consumer may assume different varieties of fruit, fermented with varying levels of sugar and yeast. Yet the reality can be very different – and not always in a positive sense. Often the ‘healthy’ ingredients are far lower than expected and the ‘unhealthy’ ones, much, much higher.
For example, well-known cider brands are marketing themselves as “premium”. This implies that the cider is packed with apples and the other fruit shown on the label. Although cider must contain a minimum of 20% apple juice, by the time the cider is diluted to 4 or 5%ABV, the juice content in the package is much, much lower. In fact, these ciders can contain as little 10% apple juice. So, you aren’t drinking purely fermented apples but rather, lots of water, chemicals, and sugar – which means calories!
Craft beers show a similar picture and wine has also been getting higher in calories as the average alcohol content has increased, and there is a trend toward using sweeter grapes.
Will e-labels help?
Richard: Naturally, food or drink brands want to tell you on their labels why you should buy that product. If you are looking for a bottle of wine, you’re probably interested in whether it is medium or dry, information on its flavour profile, what food it compliments and so on.
I can understand that these brands don’t want to push the less palatable (pardon the pun) aspects of their drink. But why are they not accountable when other Food & Beverage brands are? For other products consumers have the information in front of them and can make the choice as to whether they ‘treat’ themselves occasionally or make heathier choices.
Brands could argue that there’s not enough room to display all ingredients and nutritional information on a small can or bottle.
I disagree! I launched an alcoholic sparkling wine (Ibiza Ice) around seven years ago. All I was required to display on the packaging was the 5.5% ABV. I made the decision to put all the ingredients and nutritional information on my product because I believe in transparency. There’s certainly room for basic information and QR codes and websites can provide more detailed information.
Should the government introduce a sugar tax on alcoholic drinks?
Richard: Alongside labelling there’s the question of whether alcoholic drinks should be subject to a sugar tax, as soft drinks are. The sugar tax has made soft drinks brands reconsider their ingredients, reduce their sugar content, and create drinks that are (at least slightly) healthier. The sugar tax highlighted the issues and forced brands to do what consumers already wanted.
If this government is serious about tackling obesity, it must address the level of sugar in alcoholic offerings too.
What should drink brands do?
Richard: I strongly believe any new brands and start-ups launching an alcoholic beverage need to have transparent labelling, whether they are part of a voluntary scheme or not.
For example, at Brand Relations, we have just been involved in the launch of a rum punch called Punch M. All the ingredients, sugar content, calories, etc. are listed on the packaging. We feel this approach is the right thing one, as we have a responsibility to the people who buy the brands we help develop.
I believe that if responsible labelling does become compulsory many brands will be forced to overhaul their recipes in order to avoid being shamed by what they have been tricking customers into consuming. Any brand intending to be in the sector for the long haul should be future proofing themselves by being completely transparent about what goes into their drinks.
Richard: The alcohol culture is receding in our younger adults, who are much more interested in health and under far less pressure from peers to drink. Choosing juice or a soft drink is not taboo for today’s younger demographic.
I believe that it is inevitable that eventually we’ll see full labelling on alcoholic drinks. It just doesn’t appear to be a priority for the government right now. This is needed because a voluntary scheme simply won’t be effective enough.