Consumers have the right to know what’s in their beer

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

A beer garden in Bavaria [Shutterstock]

A beer garden in Bavaria. [Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report Alcohol in the EU’s policies.

SPECIAL REPORT / The Brewers of Europe have announced a groundbreaking commitment to go beyond the existing EU legislation on consumer information, and progressively provide ingredients and nutrition values on their products, writes Pierre-Olivier Bergeron.

Pierre-Olivier Bergeron is Secretary-General of The Brewers of Europe, an association bringing together the national brewers’ associations from 29 European countries.

Do you know the ingredients that go into making beer? Do you know how beer can fit within a balanced lifestyle? Even if you do, do you think other consumers should be as informed as you?

Europe’s brewers are rightly proud of their beers and the ingredients they use. We want Europe’s consumers to know these ingredients and the nutritional values of the beers we brew. And we are not afraid to go beyond the requirements in current EU legislation when it comes to informing our consumers.

Beer and other alcoholic beverages are covered by the EU Regulation on Food Information to Consumers, but on two aspects there is currently an exemption for drinks of more than 1.2% ABV (alcohol by volume), namely on ingredients listing and the nutrition declaration.

Ground-breaking commitment

Last week, The Brewers of Europe announced, however, a groundbreaking commitment from brewers to go beyond this existing EU legislation on consumer information and to progressively provide ingredients and nutrition values in an objective manner.

Brewers will list ingredients in descending order, whilst the calories, fats, carbohydrates, proteins and salt values will be provided per 100ml, as is currently legally required for all other non-alcoholic beverages, including non-alcoholic beers. This mandatory 100ml reference point set in EU legislation allows consumers to compare nutritional values in a simple and accurate way across all drinks and to calculate easily their nutritional intake.

Taking account changing consumer behaviours and the continuing advancements in mobile technologies, brewers will furthermore feature the information on label and/or online, keeping in step with the changing times to help ensure we have better informed consumers not just today but also in the future.

With many consumers increasingly interested in getting the right lifestyle balance, we want our consumers to know how beer, when consumed in moderation and by healthy adults, can fit within an adult’s balanced lifestyle.

Better informed consumers

In Europe alone there are over five thousand breweries, forty thousand different brands, and around one hundred different beer styles. The brewing community incorporates major multinationals, significant regional and national companies, and a number of SMEs, very much attached to their local communities.

In fact, brewers already label ingredients, either voluntarily or as a mandatory requirement, in over half the EU markets, and in some countries the brewers are already providing nutrition information. This is one of the reasons why the implementation of our commitment will have to be progressive, since some markets will need to take bigger steps than others, even if the overarching philosophy remains the same, namely to have better informed consumers.

Once started, we will set interim targets, report on the progress made and showcase some of the best practices that can inspire not just other brewers, but also other food and drink producers.

This commitment will also contribute to the European Beer Pledge, a package of responsibility initiatives that was launched by The Brewers of Europe in 2012, and on which we have been reporting annually ever since.

Online opportunities

The roll-out of this commitment will entail additional information on the labels but also further information through online platforms.

An important tool for informing consumers, the label is now also part of a growing range of platforms from which consumers can, and indeed wish to, seek information about the products available to them. Providing information online promises to be an exciting and innovative means to ensure consumers have at their fingertips all the knowledge they require about a given product.

When the EU’s latest Food Information Regulation was adopted in 2011, the debate was all about the label. Yet the Regulation itself left the door open for new technologies and proposes that these be looked at seriously in the future as a means of having better informed consumers.

There are a number of opportunities to placing information online, notably to have more tailored, targeted information for individual consumers, information that may not be appropriate for the label, also due to the space limitations. The information itself can also be quickly and easily updated as and when appropriate, reducing some of the not insignificant costs that go with calculating the seven nutritional declarations – calories, fat (of which saturated fats), carbohydrates (of which sugar), protein and salt – and changing labels.

The label will nevertheless continue to be an integral part of the online communications, since it will direct the consumers to the additional information sources.

Need for a level-playing field

The European Commission is due to produce a report on the exemption from EU rules and the next steps for dealing with alcoholic beverages.

Should it do so, it must establish a level-playing field amongst all alcoholic beverages with regard to the provision of ingredients and nutrition information. A level playing field means providing the same information and also using the same reference points as are currently applied to all non-alcoholic beverages. This will also be essential in helping consumers to make informed comparisons between all drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

In the meantime, we were delighted to see our announcement being welcomed by the major European consumer groups and public health NGOs in the alcohol field.  The Brewers of Europe will now move forward with the implementation of our commitment and encourages other drinks sectors to join us in this endeavour to ensure we have better informed consumers with regards to alcoholic beverages, ingredients and nutrition information.

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