Nutrition Labels for Booze Bottles?

February 18th, 2011 | Sources: MSNBC


Virtually all bottled beverages you can buy have handy-dandy nutrition labels from which you can access information about calories, carbs and so forth. All beverages except the ones containing alcohol, that is.

Why is that?

Maybe it’s because alcoholic beverages contain little to no protein, sodium, cholesterol, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium and iron (remember, alcohol is metabolized as a fat, not a carbohydrate), so why bother?

Then again, alcohol does contain calories, a lot of them. Would people drink less if they knew how many calories they were consuming? Would they drink less if they knew how many “servings” of alcohol were contained in the bottle they just purchased?

Maybe it’s because of the cost of performing nutritional analyses on each vintage of wine, each and every year, would turn profitable vineyards into money losers? Then again, plenty of niche beverage producers who run reasonably narrow margin businesses have never complained about the requirement to provide nutritional information.

The Tax and Trade Bureau is the federal agency that decides what information must appear on the labels of alcoholic beverages. Currently, it does not require manufacturers of wine, beer and the hard stuff to list ingredients. It does require them to list chemicals that folks might have an adverse reaction to…things like sulfites, aspartame and dyes.

The Bureau also mandates that wines containing 14% or more alcohol by volume must state this fact on a label. Wines containing less than 14% can either specify the alcohol content or affix the words “light wine” or “table wine” to their labels. In addition, “light” beer bottlers must state calorie and carbohydrate content, and distilled liquor bottlers must specify the alcohol content by volume.

Since 2003 however, consumer and public health advocates have lobbied the Tax and Trade bureau to require that labels on alcoholic beverages include more information than this. They want things like calories, carbohydrates and alcohol per serving, as well as the number of servings contained in the bottle to be included as well.

Perhaps surprisingly, Diageo, the world’s leading marketer of beer, wine and distilled spirits, supports their ideas. “In the year 2011, it’s sort of bizarre that alcohol’s the only consumable product sold in the United States that you can’t tell what’s inside the bottle,” Diageo’s EVP Guy Smith said in an interview.

Few in the industry stand with Diageo on this matter.

For example, the Beer Institute, a trade association, is fine with listing calories, carbs, protein and fat content, and alcohol by volume, but they don’t like the idea of trying to define a serving size (say, 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine) because people may get more than this depending on other ingredients in the cocktail they order, or the whims of local bartenders.

For its part, the Wine Institute prefers that labeling requirements should be voluntary. If they must be made mandatory, the Institute prefers that bottlers be permitted to generalize calorie and carb counts so that vintners don’t have to test each vintage for every variety they produce. The Wine Institute also wants bottlers to maintain control over label design. This would allow bottlers to display the information on a strip-style label (presumably much smaller than that familiar box), and place it at a distance from other design elements on the bottle.

Our View:
Consumers need to see the alcohol content and calories per serving on those labels, in addition to what’s there already. So long as those 2 are included, we’re happy.



  1. Bill | 24/02/12

    Wow, I’ve never thought of this before (I’m betting that most people haven’t). I can see where it might be a bit of a burden, particularly to the wine producers. After all, there can be significant variations in vintages from year to year. On the other hand, there is the issue of fairness in regulation.

    This really makes for an interesting debate. I’ll have to give it some thought and see where I land. I definitely like seeing the calorie count and prefer to see the alcohol volume, though it rarely impacts my buying decision. Now I wonder if any of the other factors might have an impact.

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