Ingredients & Nutrition: What and how to communicate?

The spirits industry want to improve the way consumers access meaningful and fair information about what they drink, says Paul Skehan

By Paul Skehan

16 May 2017

In March, the European Commission invited the alcoholic beverage sector to come up - within one year - a proposal to provide information to consumers on ingredients and nutrition.

It’s a tricky issue, as the Commission knows well, with many quite different positions and concerns within the sector, not to mention the views of other stakeholders.

The 12 month deadline to arrive at a cross industry self-regulatory proposal that will satisfy all parties seems tight, but we are already working hard to try to find smart, innovative solutions adapted to modern 21st century consumers.


It is worth clarifying one point from the start: it is not generally understood that the production, labelling and presentation of all spirits produced in the EU are already strictly defined according to traditional methods of production in EU law (Regulation 110, from 2008).

Wines, too, are also highly regulated, while beers are not. This means, for example, that any whisk(e)y produced must have been matured for at least three years in wooden casks, and that only water and plain caramel (for colouring) may be added to the final distillate.

Minimum strengths for every spirit have been set and are respected - 40 per cent for whiskies, but 37.5 per cent for vodkas, rums, etc. In other words, for spirits, there are already strict laws concerning their manufacture, their composition, their taste, their strength, and their presentation to consumers.

In this way, unbeknownst to themselves, consumers have already been protected concerning the favourite spirits that they buy and consume. Information on calories must be useful and fair for consumers and producers, not deceptive or misleading.

We strongly believe calorie information for alcohol products should be given per serving of alcohol and not per 100ml. Comparing 100ml of spirit to 100ml of beer makes no sense to anyone – it represents approximately three times a normal measure of the spirit, and less than half of a smaller serving of beer.

A fair comparison? Clearly not. It would be like comparing half a tonne of Skoda to half a tonne of Maserati.

Showing calories per serve is also the only way to be consistent with the messages about responsible drinking which we have been promoting for decades.

We want to improve the way consumers access meaningful and fair information to enable them to make informed decisions about what they drink.

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