Nutrition information & ingredients listing will be available for all EU spirits by 2022

Two weeks ago, seven trade associations representing producers of spirits, wine, cider and beer presented a joint voluntary commitment on the provision of consumer information to EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andruikaitis. The document is supplemented by four annexes, detailing the implementation of the commitment for each sector (spirits sector proposal).

The spirit sector is living up to its responsibility to inform consumers and has presented a proposal that is serious, flexible and scaleable. Over the next four years, we will fully support our members in their efforts to provide nutrition and ingredient information. To provide information at the point of sale in an easy and accessible manner, labels on bottles are not the only meaningly way forward. The online option offer full flexibility to consumers to access this information at any time before, during or after shopping. Some companies, in particular the many SMEs active in our sector, will therefore most likely opt for online solutions

At the same time, it became evident during the internal discussions leading to the preparation of our sectoral position, that the situation and views of producers and trade associations are evolving, and will continue to evolve even after the submission of the proposal. For instance, several producers are committed to providing calorie information on-label, and efforts are being made to expand this initiative to cover more of the market. As of 1 November 2018, those producers who choose to provide information on label will ensure that new labels of spirits will subsequently contain calorie information (visual emphasizing per serving and average value on the basis of generally established data). The organisations involved will report on progress by 31 October 2019.

Spirits are different from other food and drink products in that they are exactly pre-defined by the Spirits Drinks Regulation (110/2008). The Regulation states in detail what can – and cannot – be used to produce the different spirits drinks such as rum, vodka, or gin.

In terms of nutrition, the distillation process means that, for most categories of spirit, none of the normal nutrients are found. Thus, a vodka, whisky or rum does not contain any fat, carbohydrate, sugar, protein or salt. Spirits contain energy derived mainly from their alcohol content. Our sector has long indicated its willingness to declare the energy content of spirits. Many are already doing so through their websites. More importantly, it is necessary to ensure that energy declarations are meaningful and do not mislead consumers. 

On ingredients, the distillation process transforms the raw materials so that they are no longer present in the final product. Thus, there are no grapes in brandy, no molasses in rum and no cereals in whisky.  This being the case, the main ingredient of these spirits is, respectively, brandy, rum and whisky. Water is a further ingredient, as would the tiny quantities of caramel that are sometimes added to harmonise colour between batches. 

What does that mean for consumers? It means that the category name on the label of a spirit acts as an anchor of trust and a powerful tool to provide meaningful information to consumers, as different spirits brands within the same category will broadly have the same ingredients and energy content.

Therefore, in the case of spirits, information on nutrition and ingredients can be provided in a meaningful way online by product category. We have illustrated this on our website with the examples of vodka and rum. Information on other categories will follow soon.

For all of those who claim that they really care about consumer information on alcoholic beverages, we believe they should rally behind our call that all alcoholic beverages not habitually consumed in 100ml servings should also provide mandatory information per serving – which is the most meaningful way to inform consumers to promote moderate drinking and tackle risky drinking behaviour.

To conclude, we invite our readers to stay tuned for further news and developments on this issue: first of all, we now expect the Commission to report back to us on our proposals. Secondly, watch out for the results of pilot project that is being developed by the European Travel Retail Confederation (ETRC). The ETRC project will make product information directly accessible, in several languages, by scanning the barcode on the packaging via a smartphone or scanner facilities in-store. The project does not require any changes on the label (as it uses the barcode which is already on the product) and consumers will not need to download any additional apps. The pilot thus is a unique opportunity to implement a ground-breaking solution for the digital age, eight years after the adoption of the “FIC Regulation” which foresaw that “Food information rules should be able to adapt to a rapidly changing social, economic and technological environment” (recital 51). The first results are expected to be ready during the 2nd half of 2018.