Low and zero-alcohol drink manufacturers are rallying support for their campaign to improve labelling. 

Club Soda, a mindful-drinking initiative, has brought together a number of alcohol-free and low alcohol drinks industry bosses to try to improve labelling rules, which it says are “confusing” and “discriminatory” against the UK’s booming alcohol-free drinks makers.

Currently drinks such as beers under 0.5% ABV have to be labelled in four different ways and Club Soda argues that none of these make sense to consumers or retailers. However, these rules do not apply to alcohol-free drinks from other countries. So an alcohol-free beer from Germany can be labelled as such, but one produced in the UK has to be called “low alcohol” instead. 

“We want a public consultation and changes before December 2018. Customers want and need the right information to make healthier choices now,” said Laura Willoughby, founder of Club Soda.

For brands such as St Peter’s Brewery and Eisberg Wines, which produce zero alcohol drinks, the current labelling laws make it difficult for them to differentiate their brands from others.

Steve Magnall, CEO at St Peter’s Brewery, said: “The current labelling is confusing and in some ways misrepresentative of the types of products available. 

“We’ve put time effort and money into producing a zero alcohol range of beers so why should a 0.5% beer from Germany be branded as zero alcohol when it isn’t? We need the government to make some decisions to define no and low alcohol drinks for the sake of the industry and for the consumer. Someone wishing not to drink alcohol doesn’t want a 0.5% ABV beer, that would be like feeding a vegetarian a tiny bit of thinly cut ham.

“Brewers find it much easier to produce drinkable low alcohol beers than no alcohol beers. In light of the growing interest in alcohol-free products some British brewers are therefore pressing for approval to label low alcohol beers (ie 0.5% and below) as no alcohol. Having spent time and money producing a truly alcohol-free beer, this is misleading and unfair.”

Andrew Turner, director of wine at Halewood Wines & Spirits, which owns Eisberg, said: “Eisberg has spent time and money developing the right proposition, consistent messaging and of course the quality of the wine.

“At 0.05% ABV, we are alcohol free and there should be no ambiguity in this. It is negligible, a trace amount and is the same as naturally occurs in certain fruits and juices.

“The labelling across low and no alcohol drinks, as it stands, is a constant cause for confusion. Low alcohol is an entirely different proposition appealing to a different drinker and deserves its own category across all channels. The fact that we are even having this debate demonstrates the strength, growth and consumer demand for low and no alcohol products, and any future segmentations of the category have to be consumer driven. We’ll continue to support this drive throughout, as drinkers deserve clear and consistent messaging.”