The government has cited research which suggested 80% of the public were unaware of the calorie content of common drinks

Drinks industry bodies are divided in their responses to government plans for a consultation on calorie labelling for alcohol.

The Department for Health & Social Care revealed the move today as part of a wider strategy to combat obesity ahead of a potential second wave of coronavirus – obesity has been linked to worse outcomes for those suffering from the virus.

It cited research which suggested 80% of the public were unaware of the calorie content of common drinks, with many underestimating the amount they consume through alcohol drinks.

Here’s how the booze industry responded to the news:

Miles Beal, CEO, Wine & Spirit Trade association:

“The WSTA welcomes the government’s intention to consult on calorie labelling as part of a strategy to tackle obesity.

“For alcohol it will be important that the consultation looks beyond just labelling and seeks views on how best to inform consumers about the energy content of alcoholic drinks.

“We were disappointed to read that the evidence cited in the government’s press release, that consumers are not aware of the calories alcoholic drinks, dates back to 2014. Since that study was published, the drinks industry provides more information than ever before – both online and on-label – including guidance on health information and calorie content.

”Industry has led the way in providing health and calorie information on a voluntary basis, working in co-operation with government. By using 21st century methods, now at everyone’s fingertips, the drinks industry can provide consumers with a far greater variety of information which would not fit on labels.”

John Timothy, CEO, Portman Group:

“We support efforts to provide consumers with more information about their purchases, and are committed to working with the government to ensure that these proposals align with much of the voluntary work already taking place. Many producers have already committed to provide nutrition and calorie information on-pack and online by 2022.

“While we support measures to help tackle obesity, it is important that any new labelling regime takes into account all up-to-date and relevant data and does not place UK producers at a competitive disadvantage.”

Emma McClarkin, CEO, British Beer & Pub Association:

“UK brewers have responded to consumer demand for calorie information and across the EU have already voluntarily committed to providing this information on labels. There are a variety of online resources available to help consumers understand calorie information for beer.

”Mandatory rules for calorie labelling are unnecessary, would be hugely costly and detrimental to our sector at a time when it is trying to get back on its feet.

”Now is not the time for burdensome red tape and we would urge the government to look at more collaborative ways to work with our sector instead, including promoting the growing range of low & no-alcohol beers.”

Chris Ellis, drinks consultant and former Pernod Ricard commercial director:

“My top-line thoughts are there could be some surprising results. Brands that you might have imagined were low or high in calories will be shown not to be. It will also be expensive and long to implement as every bottle and can will need alteration.

“The big question is whether it will really impact consumer behaviour, as measures vary enormously in home consumption. It could end up turbo-charging the wave of seltzers as low-calorie is their product truth and their fundamental advantage over regular products. And will other products reformulate to reduce calories?”

Jason Clarke, co-founder, Genius Brewing:

“In the UK, obesity is a public health crisis and there can be no doubt that alcohol consumption is a factor. At Genius Brewing, we believe calorie content should be prominently displayed on all packaged alcohol products and on menus and fonts in the on-trade.

“Soft drinks, including milk and orange juice, have to display full nutrition information. Why not alcohol? The public deserves to be able to make well-informed choices. A change is long overdue.

“Since launch in 2018, Genius Brewing has displayed calorie content on the front of our cans which now feature full, full-standard nutrition information. Surely this should become the industry standard.”

Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman, Alcohol Health Alliance UK:

“The government’s plans to consult on ending the current exemption for alcohol products from calorie labelling requirements are very welcome. When the calorie equivalent of a large glass of white wine is the same as a slice of pizza, or a cocktail is the equivalent of a cheeseburger it is clear why alcohol products should be included in the government’s plans to tackle the obesity crisis.

“Alcohol is a factor in more than 200 health conditions and is the leading risk factor of death among 15 to 49-year-olds in England. Labelling on all alcohol products with prominent health warnings, low-risk drinking guidelines, information on ingredients, nutrition and calories would help equip the public with the knowledge they need to make healthier decisions about what and how much they drink.

“If we want to build a healthier, more resilient society we need to wake up to the harm alcohol does to people’s health.”

Adrian Hearst, CEO, Skinnybrands

“The beverage industry needs to modernise and evolve with the needs of consumers. It was inevitable this would lead to calorific content transparency. Consumers can make informed decisions.”