The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued interim guidance last week that allows beer, wine and spirits companies the ability to voluntarily include nutritional information on their labels, something that, until now, has never been approved.
The May 28 ruling allows ‘serving facts’ statements that include the serving size, the number of servings per container, the number of calories and the number of grams of carbohydrates, protein and fat per serving. Beverage companies can also now include an optional statement of alcohol content as a percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV) or a statement of ABV together with a disclosure of fluid announces of alcohol (ethanol) per serving, something spirits companies have spent almost a decade lobbying for.
In 2003, Diageo — the world’s largest producer of spirits and a major producer of beer and wine — asked the TTB to allow the company to add this type of information to its labels.
“Almost ten years ago — in December 2003 — Diageo led the industry when it stood with a coalition of consumer and public health advocates to publicly call on US regulators to allow Serving Fact information to be displayed on beverage alcohol products,” Guy Smith, the executive vice president of Diageo North America said in a press statement. “Today, we are proud to celebrate a victory on behalf of the American public.”
The interim guidance is a partial win for beer companies. Chris Thorne, the vice president of communications for the Beer Institute, said that by issuing the ruling, the TTB recognized that previously-held serving sizes for alcohol beverages did not accurately represent how wine, distilled spirits and beer are typically consumed in real-life settings.
“It’s not an attempt to say a drink is a drink,” he said. “It is recognizing that different drinks have different alcohol contents.”
The Beer Institute has stood firm on its opposition to defining serving size by fluid ounces of pure ethanol and routinely calling mixed cocktails misleading given the varying amounts of alcoholic ingredients used to make each drink.
“When you start adding alcoholic mixers, it’s very easy to have more than one serving of alcohol in a cocktail,” said Thorne.
But with the ruling still in its infancy stages, most brewers and beer importers have yet to indicate where they stand.
“I think they are all coming at it from different business perspectives,” Thorne said.
Mary Rait, a regulatory specialist for Craft Brew Alliance — which produces and markets the Widmer Brothers, Redhook, Kona and Omission craft brands — said CBA is essentially “neutral” on the topic.
“Our craft beer consumers generally have not asked for this information to be on our labels,” she said. “I think the positive is that you can respond to what consumers might want, but the negative would be the costs associated with redesigning your labels to include the nutritional information as well as the costs associated with testing product.”
So can brewers expect a mandatory ruling in the future? Rait said it’s possible.
“I think the interim ruling could be a warning of sorts to say ‘look what is coming our way,’” she said. “If it were mandatory we would obviously comply but it would be pretty expensive.”