Supermarkets and alcoholic drinks companies will be given the green light to promote lower abv products, as the government seeks to encourage the development of lower strength beer and wines, The Grocer can reveal.

Under plans approved by the government, wines with less than 12.5% alcohol and lagers or ales with abvs below 4.2% can be marketed as ‘better for you’ options for drinkers.

And The Grocer has also learned these drinks could carry new lower alcohol logos. Defra, which is responsible for labelling regulation, is consulting on new labelling rules for reduced strength beers and wines to “support our ambition to reduce the units of alcohol sold, and to have a wider range of lower alcohol products on the market”.

Only variants of drinks that have at least 30% less alcohol than their full-strength counterparts can be labelled as “reduced alcohol”, under government guidelines.

However, rules drawn up by the Portman Group, the industry’s self-regulatory body, have until now prevented lower (or higher) levels of alcohol from being used as a dominant theme in marketing materials.

Under reviewed guidelines announced last week, which will come into force next May, products below the average strength in their category - or existing products reformulated to below average strength - can make a virtue of the fact, if it is done in a “proportionate manner”, it said.

“Our task is to set the balance between legitimate marketing activity and public protection, especially of young people,” said Portman Group chief executive Henry Ashworth.

The move was hailed as a “great development” by drinks giant Diageo, which said it would help it market drinks such as its recently launched 2.8% abv Guinness.

“Being able to draw attention to lower alcohol alternatives is a great development,” said a spokesman.” A spokesman for Morrisons added the changes would help towards the “vital” goal of removing five billion units of alcohol from stores’ shelves. And the wine and Spirit Trade Association also welcomed the move.

“There is a trade-off between government wanting to push the industry towards making lower alcohol products and the ability of manufacturers to market them,” said the WSTA’s director of public affairs, Aileen Keyes. “In the past they have been hampered in doing so.”

However, drinks companies still face tougher barriers in advertising lower alcohol drinks, with ASA rules limiting ads to drinks with strengths between 0.5% to 1.2% abv.