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Beer labels

Nutritional labelling on its way for alcoholic beverages

The Brewers of Europe, a trade body representing beer makers across the continent, said members soon would begin listing nutritional information on their brands. Anheuser-Busch InBev, SABMiller, Heineken and Carlsberg were among those to endorse the proposal, and some would start implementing it now.

Alcohol producers are coming under pressure to follow the food industry by providing more detail on nutrition, especially in developed markets where consumers increasingly make health-based decisions.

In 2014, 71% of Americans said “healthfulness” was a consideration when buying foods and beverages, up from 58% in 2010, says the International Food Information Council Foundation.

Diageo, the world’s biggest alcoholic beverages company, said it would begin offering per-serving calorie counts on products including Smirnoff vodka and Guinness.

Labels could hit stores in the US within two months, it said. Some beer companies already list nutritional information on their websites — SABMiller has done so since 2008 — but the new plans commit the companies to providing uniform breakdowns for all products sold in the EU, including calorie, fat, carbohydrate and salt content per 100ml of liquid.

Brewers say their intention is to provide drinkers with more information. Some 6% of European consumers knew the number of calories in 100ml of regular-strength beer, according to a new survey by German market-research firm GfK.

But industry analysts say the move is an attempt to get ahead of European regulators after recent crackdowns on high-sugar drinks and fatty foods. Current EU law exempts alcoholic beverages above 1.2% alcohol content from having to provide a list of ingredients, or any nutritional information.

“If you’re not open about it, it might come back to haunt you,” said François Sonneville, a senior beverage analyst at Rabobank. “Beer companies will be thinking they need to get their act together.”

For brewers, the next stop could be America. Cider is enjoying a boom in the US, where it is often promoted as gluten-free, Sonneville added.

“It is only a question of time” before beer brands in the US start displaying nutritional values, he said. Under the European proposals, the companies will decide how much detail to provide on labels and how much to give online.

The minimum will be an on-pack link to a website for a full breakdown, but many brands will display labels with full nutritional information on their packaging, according to Pierre-Olivier Bergeron, secretary-general of the Brewers of Europe.

“There has to be a means to clearly connect with the consumer from the label,” Bergeron said.

Carlsberg, the world’s fifth-largest brewer by volume, said its namesake brand would include a nutritional label on products sold in Western Europe by the end of the year. “Beer is a wholesome product with natural ingredients,” said Graham Fewkes, a Carlsberg senior vice-president.

“We’re proud of the beers we brew and the ingredients we use to produce them, and this will help consumers understand beer better.”

Not all drinks companies support using nutritional labels.

The situation in SA?

A spokeswoman for Pernod Ricard SA, the world’s second-biggest distiller by sales, said the company wasn’t opposed to displaying calorie content online or through mobile apps, but “labelling wasn’t the most suitable platform”.

Local beer drinkers will have noticed nutritional labels on their favourite brands already, in anticipation of the promulgation of R429, SA’s new but-still-draft labelling regulations. Comments SA labelling expert, Nigel Sunley: “Under R429, nutritional information will have to be provided, as for all other products, although there are exemptions specifically granted for having to analyse for dietary fibre for beer and ‘traditional African beer’. However, no other exemptions are granted. If that particular clause of R429 goes through unchanged, SAB et al will thus have to find space on the labels for nutritional tables and are seemingly pre-empting future legislation by doing this already.”

DRINKStuff SA is still awaiting word from SABMiller and brandhouse on local beer labelling moves.