Why voluntary nutrition labels for alcoholic drinks won’t work

By Richard Horwell

- Last updated on GMT

The U-label scheme uses QR codes on wine or spirits bottles to convey information
The U-label scheme uses QR codes on wine or spirits bottles to convey information

Related tags: Drinks, Packaging & labelling, Ingredients & nutrition

A voluntary e-label scheme has been developed by European wine and spirits trade bodies Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins and Spirits Europe enabling wine and spirit producers to communicate nutritional, calorie and allergen information via QR codes on bottles. Richard Horwell - owner of Brand Relations - is sceptical.

We need complete, unequivocal transparency in the alcoholic beverage category, as we have in other sections of the industry. The U-label scheme doesn’t protect consumers or ensure they can access the information they need 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. 

So, although I applaud this well-intentioned scheme, I am not convinced it will work, chiefly because it is voluntary when it should be compulsory.

Timing of scheme's launch

The U-label scheme was to have been launched on 1 November, but has been put back to 1 December 'to offer an even better experience to producers and consumers':

The hidden nasties​ 

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. 

Why e-labels?​ 

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's 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.  Take a look at this report from Action on Sugar: http://www.actiononsugar.org/media/actiononsugar/Alcohol-Survey-Report.pdf​. There are some truly shocking examples in the ready-to-drink and cider categories.

There's 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. 

I believe the tide will turn. It is inevitable that one day we’ll see full labelling on alcoholic drinks. It just doesn’t appear to be a priority for the Government right now. But it should be. 

So, although I am pleased to see an accessible voluntary labelling scheme for the alcoholic beverages sector, I do not believe it will work. We need compulsory labelling, complete transparency, and a sugar tax. This is the only way the sector can ensure it acts responsibly and delivers what consumers want.

Richard Horwell is the owner of Brand Relations, a specialist food and drink marketing and branding company based in London.

Related news

Show more

Related products

120 trays per minute - it works with Lenze

120 trays per minute - it works with Lenze

Lenze Ltd | 27-May-2021 | Case Study

By 2025, packaging materials must be completely recyclable. Developments in this area are therefore of great importance. Dampack had the concept for a...

Give Your Plant Based some Pure Pulling Power!

Give Your Plant Based some Pure Pulling Power!

Gold&Green Food | 28-Oct-2020 | Technical / White Paper

The fact you’re here shows you care about making consumers and the planet feel good!
Health and sustainability are putting the demand for plant-based...

Related suppliers


Post your comment

We will not publish your email address on the website

These comments have not been moderated. You are encouraged to participate with comments that are relevant to our news stories. You should not post comments that are abusive, threatening, defamatory, misleading or invasive of privacy. For the full terms and conditions for commenting see clause 7 of our Terms and Conditions ‘Participating in Online Communities’. These terms may be updated from time to time, so please read them before posting a comment. Any comment that violates these terms may be removed in its entirety as we do not edit comments. If you wish to complain about a comment please use the "REPORT ABUSE" button or contact the editors.