Calls for clear labelling in ‘No-Lo’ drinks category

When is a drink really alcohol-free? It’s a debate that has bubbled up now and again but with no- and low-alcohol (No-Lo) drinks in fashion this time it could get serious.

“The misinformation and confusion created by inaccurate and misleading labelling of some no- and low-alcohol drinks threatens to undermine consumer confidence in the No-Lo category and compromises the consumer’s ability to make an informed choice about what they are drinking,” wrote Richard Clark, founder and managing director of Drynks Unlimited in a full-page advert in The Guardian.

Clark, who sells alcohol-free beer and cider, took aim at others in the industry for marketing brands that are “passed off” as wine, spirits or cider without actually qualifying as such. They have “never been through the brewing, fermentation or distillation process and are formulated without the necessary ingredients that embody these drinks,” Clark said.

He also questioned labelling rules: “A beverage containing more than 0.05% abv is not classified as alcohol-free and should not be labelled as such.”

A low-alcohol drink must be 1.2% abv or below and an indication of its maximum abv should be included on the label, according to UK government guidance. Meanwhile alcohol-free should only be applied to a drink from which the alcohol has been extracted if it contains no more than 0.05%. Local trading standards are responsible for enforcing the rules.

In Europe beers below 0.5% abv can be called “alcohol-free”, but the UK has so far stuck to its lower limit. Talks to “rationalise the rules” are ongoing, Wine & Spirit Trade Association CEO Miles Beale told The Grocer.

The government is soon set to consult on its intention to make companies provide calorie labelling on all pre-packaged alcohol. The plans, which are part of the obesity strategy, would also cover drinks sold in the out of home sector.

Sales of alcohol-free and low-alcohol spirits are up 19% year-on-year, according to the latest data from Nielsen. The coronavirus pandemic has also fuelled interest in healthy drinks, according to IWSR.

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