Voluntary Nutritional Labeling on Alcohol Is the Best Recipe

Last month, I discussed the negative impacts that a nutritional label mandate would have on small producers of alcohol beverages, such as craft brewers. Another side of this issue is the negative impact that prohibiting nutritional labels has caused small and large alcohol beverage producers—as well as health-conscious consumers of adult beverages.

I sat down with the executive Vice President of Diageo, one of the world’s largest producers of adult beverages (its brands include Guinness, Smirnoff, Jose Cuervo, and many others) to discuss how voluntary labeling could help both consumers and producers of alcohol, big and small.

In 2004, the National Consumers League called on the Federal Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to reform alcohol label requirements so that consumers of adult beverages can make better nutritional decisions (it wasn’t the only group calling for change). At that same time, Diageo began its lengthy battle with the TTB to be able to attach to its products labels that included information on calories, carbohydrates, and alcohol content. The agency rejected Diageo’s request.

Now, seven years later, the TTB has not changed its rules, and consumer groups have asked again that it issue a final rule. However, in 2007 the TTB did issue a notice of proposed rulemaking that would amend its regulations to require a statement of alcohol content on all alcohol beverage products as well as a “serving facts” panel on alcohol beverage labels that would include a disclosure of calories, carbohydrates, fat, and protein. According to TTB spokesman Tom Hogue, the issue is a complicated one and federal officials aren’t likely to issue a final rule anytime soon.

While Diageo and other alcohol beverage manufacturers strongly support the idea of allowing nutritional data to appear on bottles, they currently support doing so on a voluntary basis. “Let the market place decide. If companies don’t think their consumers want labels then don’t have labels, but don’t prevent us from telling our consumers what’s in our products,” said Diageo Executive Vice President Guy Smith.

Such a requirement would be especially burdensome for brewers with a wide array of products and wine makers who consider the label art on their bottles a selling point. Moreover, voluntary labeling of nutritional information would be beneficial, particularly for small producers of alcohol beverages who are considering entering into the ever-popular lower calorie beer market.

For example, a craft brewer could have a dozen beers that it doesn’t label and one light beer that it has analyzed and labeled. This would allow the brewer to spend the money to better compete with the Bud Lights and Amstel Lights on the market. It would also give greater choice to consumers who want to control their calorie or carbohydrate consumption, without sacrificing taste. Giving breweries and alcohol manufacturers the ability to label some of their products with nutritional information will give calorie and carb-conscious consumers a greater variety of options without reducing variety for all other beer drinkers.

The TTB should neither prevent alcohol beverage producers who want to provide nutritional information on their labels from doing so, nor force all producers to add such labels. Allowing voluntary labeling would benefit consumers and producers without putting a burden on smaller producers who cannot afford or simply do not want to label all of their products. And, just as importantly, it will allow consumers to decide how much nutritional information they want from their drinks.