When Regulation 1169/2011 was adopted, it was decided to temporarily exempt alcoholic beverages from the scope of regulation until the Commission conducted an assessment. While fully a part of the food sector, it was acknowledged that alcoholic beverages require a marginally different treatment to other foods when labelling energy and ingredients.
In its report published in March 2017, the Commission invited the sectors to “respond to consumers’ expectations and present within a year of adoption of this report a self-regulatory proposal [on ingredients and nutrition information] that would cover the entire sector of alcoholic beverages”.
After 12 months of intense discussions between seven European federations, a common voluntary commitment, with detailed implementation plans presented in four sector annexes, was presented on 12 March 2018 to the Health Commissioner, Vytenis Andruikaitis (Joint Press Release 12 March 2018).
This proposal consists of a common umbrella voluntary commitment, with implementation plans laid out in each sector’s annex.
1) spiritsEUROPE committed to ensure that, by the end of 2022, information on the nutrition and ingredients of all spirits sold in the EU is made available to consumers (online and/or offline).
Online by 2022 means consumers will receive information from the bottle by clicking the barcode with their smartphone. They will be able to get the information anywhere, at any time, in any European language.
>>> March 2019: Progress made
- To deliver on the commitment to make consumer information directly available from bottles via smartphone barcode scans, we have started a formal cooperation with the global supply-chain standardization body GS1. The standard that will be developed together with GS1 will provide a common language for all relevant actors on product-specific nutrition and ingredient information. The information will then be made available via open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to allow for the development of new and innovative digital information tools such as dedicated mobile apps.
- In the meantime, a one-stop-shop web-portal providing consumers with easy access to detailed information on all spirit drinks legally sold in the EU. For each of the EU’s 47 spirit drinks categories, we provide calorie information per 100 ml and per serving size, as well as the list of ingredients, the full nutrition declaration, and further important information on the production process. You will see that all our spirit categories are heavily regulated in terms of raw material to be used, production process, strength, what is allowed and what is not. We have nothing to hide and all is available in full transparency.
2) Large producers (representing 50% of the market in value in the EU) and several member associations in spiritsEUROPE are ready to roll out the labeling scheme (i.e., energy information on pack per serving size & 100ml) 6 months after a common understanding on it has been reached with the European Commission.
>>> March 2019: Progress made
We are currently in a cordial and constructive dialogue with the Commission to reach very soon such a common understanding. There will be a public announcement once done.
What are the next step after March 2019?
The most important is to finalise the common understanding with the Commission for companies -who wish - to start the labelling process. We continue actively the huge work ahead of us with GS1. With the Commission one year ago, we agreed on a reporting timeline and the next one is end of October 2019, so stay tuned!
Questions & Answers
While fully a part of the food sector, it was acknowledged that alcoholic beverages require a marginally different treatment to other foodstuffs when labelling energy and ingredients. To account for these specificities, it was decided to temporarily exempt alcoholic beverages form the scope of regulation 1169/2011 until the Commission conducted an assessment. In its report published in March 2017, the Commission invited the sectors to “respond to consumers’ expectations and present within a year of adoption of this report a self-regulatory proposal [on ingredients and nutrition information] that would cover the entire sector of alcoholic beverages”.
spiritsEUROPE’s position is as clear as it is simple: we will provide the information. In doing so, our guiding principle is to ensure that the information provided is meaningful to consumers. We also believe that it is essential that the way information is provided applies equally to all sectors.
We are presenting the results of 12 months of negotiations between seven European federations. Our joint proposal is articulated around a common umbrella commitment, with the implementation plans clearly laid out in four sector annexes (wine, spirits, cider, and beer).
spiritsEUROPE has worked closely with the colleagues in wine, beer and cider colleagues during the past 12 months. From the onset, we knew we had to develop a comprehensive proposal taking into account the specificities each sector, some because they are strictly regulated at EU level (wine, aromatised wine and spirits) and others because they are not (beer and cider).
The Brewers of Europe came out with their labelling pledge in 2015, and the Commission with its report in March 2017. It was never about other sectors adopting what the brewers have done, it was about all collectively moving towards better consumer information.
Our key objective has been, and always will be, to ensure that the information provided is meaningful and comparable. For this reason, we proposed a collective voluntary commitment to display the information per serving (or single serve containers) in addition to 100 ml. This was not considered acceptable by The Brewers. From then on, the other sectors had no choice but to develop sector annexes detailing what information they will provide, and how.
Spirits are different 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.
On 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 as 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.(information for the 47 spirit categories)
Whether consumers choose to access information via this harmonised system, or company or brand websites, they will always be able to find everything they need to make informed decisions.
spiritsEUROPE will report to the Commission at regular interval between March 2018 and 2022. The first deliverable will be a progress report in October 2019 indicating the percentage coverage of the organisations having chosen to make information available on labels. The additional three phases are detailed in our spirits annex