Alcohol industry pledges to provide nutritional and ingredient information in Europe

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

The European alcoholic beverage industry has pledged to provide nutritional information and ingredient lists for drinks, responding to an invitation from the European Commission last year to develop a self-regulatory proposal.

Information will be provided either on pack or online via a QR codes or similar technology.

Industry associations say the proposal will provide information ‘in tailor-made and meaningful ways’; but critics say that providing information online is not good enough and continue to call for nutritional labeling on pack to become mandatory.

The alcohol industry’s nutritional and ingredients labeling proposal has been put together by industry associations representing beer, cider, spirits and wine in the EU: AICV (cider); The Brewers of Europe (beer); Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins – CEEV (wine); CEVI (winegrowers); COPA COGECA (farmers and agri-cooperatives); EFOW (federation of origin wines); and spiritsEUROPE (spirits).

Providing more information

In Europe, the EU Regulation on the provision of food information to consumers (1169/2011) sets down rules on listing ingredients and providing nutritional declarations on food. Alcoholic beverages at more than 1.2% ABV, however, are exempt from this regulation.

Nevertheless, there has been a broad move towards providing more information for consumers: proponents say consumers have the right to know what is in their beverages and that more information will help them make healthier choices.

Last year the European Commission invited the alcoholic beverage industry to develop a self-regulatory proposal​ for providing ingredient and nutritional information on alcoholic beverages.

The industry’s proposals, released this week, are:

  • The nutrition information and the list of ingredients of products will be provided to consumers off-label and/or on label; where information provided off-label will be easily accessible from the label itself, either by a web-link, a QR code, a bar code or through other direct means using smart technologies.
  • When informing consumers about the nutrition information, food business operators responsible for the food information may limit the declaration to the energy value only.
  • The energy/nutrition declaration will be provided in line with Regulation 1169/2011, which sets out that this should be provided per 100ml but may also be provided per portion.

On pack or online?

While there is a general agreement that consumers have the right to such information, there are still conflicting opinions on how this should be done.

The proposals say that nutritional information and ingredients can be provided either on pack or online.

But European consumer organization BEUC says that putting information online is a ‘no-go’ from the consumer perspective.

“The industry is granting itself too much flexibility to decide how much information consumers can see. As consumers make shopping decisions in a matter of seconds, it is unrealistic to expect they will take a few minutes to check online how calorific wine or vodka is.

“In most countries more than three out 10 consumers do not own a smartphone, not to mention that the signal can be very weak in some places. So on-label information is the best way to reach consumers equally. Even if consumers own a smartphone, manufacturers should make their lives easy and enable them to compare drinks in the blink of an eye.

“Alcoholic beverages can be calorie bombs, as a glass of wine can contain as many calories as an ice cream. To make healthier choices and know at a glance what an alcoholic drink contains, consumers need the information on the bottle, not screen swipes away.”

It says the only way to provide consumers with the information they want is to have mandatory labelling on pack and to ‘end the alcohol sector’s labeling privileges’.

Sector specific proposals

Annexes for beer, cider, spirits and wine have been developed by each sector to address how the commitments will be implemented. The annexes are under the sole responsibility of each sector, and set out the most appropriate labeling methods​.

Spirits, for example, will always provide information per portion as well as the required per 100ml, because information per 100ml creates far larger figures than for those actually consumed in an average portion size (i.e. 30ml).

It also wants to see the Commission allow it to display ‘per serving’ information more prominently than the figures per 100ml.

The beer industry, meanwhile, has had a voluntary commitment to provide nutritional and ingredients labeling since 2015. One of its considerations is to create means to inform consumers about beers served on-tap.  

The Commission is now to review the industry’s proposal.