We now have a new voluntary e-label scheme developed by CEEV and SpiritsEUROPE. The intention is 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. It still leaves a giant black hole of opacity within the alcoholic beverage industry. Let me explain why.
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.
So, I applaud this well-intentioned scheme, but I’m not convinced it will work, chiefly because it is voluntary when it should be compulsory. Consumers have the right to know what they are putting in their bodies, I can’t think of a single good reason not to force alcoholic beverage companies to declare their ingredients and nutritional information – just as the producers of soft drinks have to.
Consumers buying 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 contains. But what else is in there? Often the ‘healthy’ ingredients are far lower than expected and the ‘unhealthy’ ones, much, much higher. To take an example, one cider brand’s standard bottle contains an enormous 53g of sugar and over 300 calories.
Brands could argue that there’s not enough room to display all ingredients and nutritional information on a small can or bottle. That’s fair, right?
No! 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. But I decided to put all the ingredients and nutritional information on my product because I believe in transparency. So, there is certainly room for basic information and QR codes and websites can give consumers more detailed information. But at the very least, the ingredients should be on the bottle/can for everyone, including those who can’t afford smartphones, to see.
The Sugar Tax
When the sugar tax was introduced, I naturally assumed it would apply to alcoholic drinks too – and I still think it should. It is worth looking at the report from Action on Sugar published in 2020 it includes some truly shocking examples in both the cider and ready-to-drink categories.
There is no doubt that the sugar tax has turned the soft drinks market around. It has made 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. Remember, today’s shoppers are far more aware of what they are consuming. And this awareness and desire to know extends to alcoholic drinks too, especially among younger people.
What should drink brands be doing?
I believe that, if responsible labelling does become compulsory, as it should, many brands will be forced to overhaul their recipes in order to avoid being shamed by what they have been tricking customers into consuming. And any brand intending to be in the sector for the long haul would do well to future proof themselves now by being completely transparent about what goes into their drinks.
Interestingly 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. In addition, they are technologically savvy, meaning they can assess what they want to be drinking.
I believe the tide will turn. It is inevitable that one day we’ll see full labelling on alcoholic drinks, though it doesn’t appear to be a government priority right now.
Of course, even though I don’t believe it will work, I am pleased to see an accessible voluntary labelling scheme for the alcoholic beverages sector – it is a step in the right direction. What is needed is compulsory labelling, complete transparency, and a sugar tax for alcoholic beverages.