Drinks of less than 0.5% abv could soon be labelled as “alcohol-free” under new proposals outlined by the government to promote alternatives to booze.
A public consultation has been launched on whether to raise the threshold for “alcohol-free”. The move would bring the UK in line with countries like the US, New Zealand, Germany and Australia.
The threshold in the UK is currently 0.05%.
The change would “make no and low-alcohol drinks more popular and easier to buy” and help “shift the market to healthier alternatives”, Westminster said.
Alcohol-related harm costs the UK an estimated £25bn annually, according to the Department for Health & Social Care.
But alcohol-free drinks are on the rise. The segment grew by value by 13.9% against the backdrop of a total alcohol category that declined by 1.3% [NIQ 52 w/e 17 July 2023].
“No & low alcohol drinks are getting more and more popular, and we are looking to further support their growth,” said public health minister Neil O’Brien. “Liberalising labelling guidelines could also help people make more informed choices about the drinks they buy.
“We want to encourage the growth of no & low alcohol alternatives for those looking to moderate their alcohol intake.”
The government added it was clear alcohol alternatives should not be marketed to or consumed by children.
It said the consultation would seek views on the measures it could take “to prevent children and young people from accessing and consuming these products”, including potential age restriction warnings.
Views would also be sought on whether to update labelling guidelines, so manufacturers would be required to disclose alcohol percentage on any low or no-alcohol product clearly on the bottle.
Matt Lambert, CEO of industry watchdog the Portman Group, welcomed the news of the consultation.
“Our annual polling repeatedly shows that these products are already helping UK consumers moderate their drinking and avoid harms such as drink driving,” he said. “It is also an important opportunity to highlight the continued commitment of producers to market and sell these products responsibly to adult consumers.”
Alcohol-free drinks producers also gave the thumbs-up to the proposals. Chris Hannaway, co-founder of Infinite Session, told The Grocer updating the alcohol-free descriptor was a “commonsense move” that was “backed by research on the lack of any meaningful alcoholic effect at 0.5%”.
“We have been calling for this change since we started Infinite Session in 2017,” he said. “It will help to reduce confusion for consumers, and support growth and innovation for the smaller, flavour-led producers in the category.”
Big Drop Brewing Co founder Rob Fink said trace levels of alcohol in 0.5% abv beers had a positive impact on flavour.
“All 0.0% beers have had the alcohol removed and that can ruin the taste,” he said. “A 0.5% beer, however, has been naturally brewed using traditional methods and end result is a beer so good you won’t miss the alcohol.”