What’s in Your Cocktail? Alcoholic Beverage Labels Get a Makeover
Alcohol beverages could soon carry nutritional labels like those on food - but only if the producers want to put them there.
The Treasury Department, which regulates alcohol, said this week that beer, wine and spirits companies can place labels on packages that include serving size, servings per container, calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat per serving. Such labels have never before been approved.
The labels are voluntary, so it will be up to beverage companies to decide whether to use them on their products. The decision is a temporary, first step while the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau, or TTB, continues to consider final rules on alcohol labels. Rules proposed in 2007 would have made labels mandatory, but the agency never made the rules final.
The labeling regulation issued May 28 comes after a decade of lobbying by hard liquor companies and consumer groups, with clearly different goals: the liquor companies want to advertise low calories and low carbohydrates in their products, while the consumer groups want alcoholic drinks to have the same transparency as packaged foods, which are required to be labeled.
"This is actually bringing alcoholic beverages into the modern era," says Guy Smith, an executive vice president at Diageo, the world’s largest distiller and maker of such well-known brands as Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Jose Cuervo and Tanqueray. Diageo asked the bureau in 2003 to allow them to add that information to their products as low-carbohydrate diets were gaining in popularity.
Almost 10 years later, Smith said he expects Diageo to gradually put the new labels on all of its products, which include a small number of beer and wine companies.
"It’s something consumers have come to expect," Smith said. "In time, it’s going to be, Why isn’t it there?"
Not all alcohol companies are expected to use labels, however. Among those who may take a pass: beer companies that don’t want consumers counting calories and winemakers that don’t want to ruin the sleek look of their bottles.
The Wine Institute, which represents more than a thousand California wineries, said in a statement that it supports the ruling but "experience suggests that such information is not a key factor in consumer purchase decisions about wine."
Spokeswoman Gladys Horiuchi said the group knows of no wine companies that plan to use the new labels.