The case has been with the European Commission for four years, with the mixer in danger of falling foul of EU rules designed to prevent food and drink products from implying they have any beneficial effect on health.
But the EU now says that – although technically falling under health claims regulation – tonic water will be exempt.
Tonic's roots: Quinine and malaria
Tonic water is a carbonated soft drink that contains quinine and sugar or sweeteners. The drink originated in India in the 19th century, where quinine was taken by Britons to guard against malaria.
Today, however, tonic usually contains a lower amount of quinine and is used as a mixer in alcoholic drinks, most notably the famous gin and tonic.
The popularity of gin has helped boost sales of tonic water. The global market for the mixer is expected to increase at a CAGR of 6.5% between 2018-2023, according to Mordor Intelligence, with demand particularly high in Europe and North America.
The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) submitted evidence to the EU in May 2014, showing that ‘Tonic Water’ has gone by this name (or the equivalent in the local language) in all EU countries over several decades, supporting the case for tonic water to be recognised as a generic descriptor.
Generic descriptors are used for foods and beverages that could imply an effect on health, but that are not interpreted by consumers in this way and thus are exempt from health claim regulation.
Traditional use of terms
The EU's nutrition and health claim rules could have stopped brands from using the term 'tonic water' in their marketing.
But in its ruling this month, the EU agreed that tonic – while technically falling under health claims regulation – should be granted an exception.
“The term ‘tonic’ and the equivalent linguistic forms, namely, ‘tonik’, ‘tónico’, ‘tónica’ and ‘tonică’, when they are used as part of the descriptive name of a beverage, fall into the scope of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 [nutrition and health claims made on foods], because they can imply a relationship between a food bearing this term and health,” says the ruling.
“However, evidence has been provided that these terms have been used traditionally… as generic descriptors to describe a class of beverages, namely, a non-alcoholic carbonated beverage containing the bittering agent quinine in the form of the flavourings FL 14.011, FL 14.152 or FL 14.155.
“In particular, the terms ‘tonic’ and the equivalent linguistic forms, when they are used as part of the descriptive name of a beverage, have neither been used with the aim to indicate a health effect of this class of beverages nor are understood by an average consumer as claiming a health effect of this class of beverages.
“Derogation from Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 should therefore be granted for the use of the generic descriptor ‘tonic’ (in English), when used as part of the descriptive name of a non-alcoholic carbonated beverage containing the bittering agent quinine.
“The term ‘tonic’ (in English) may be substituted in the descriptive name by 'TOHИK’ (in Bulgarian), ‘tonik’ (in Czech and in Slovak), ‘tónica’ (in Spanish and in Portuguese) ‘tonica’ (in Italian), or ‘tonică’ (in Romanian).”
The BSDA says it is delighted that ‘common sense has prevailed’ in the EU’s ruling.
Gavin Partington BSDA Director-General, commented: “Whatever happens with Brexit, at least we can relax in the knowledge that the future of the quintessentially British Gin and Tonic is secured!”