Craft beers are a market phenomenon that continues to flourish. Global sales are heading to double the levels of just five years ago. And it doesn’t look as if they will slow down any time soon. Still, either conversely or consequently, concerns about diet and lifestyle are on the rise too...
Here to quell the conflict of interest is leading global beer brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev, which announced that they will soon begin publishing full ingredient and nutritional information on their beer print labels. Labels will specify energy, fats, saturated fats, sugars, proteins, carbohydrates and salt – both per portion and per unit volume. The brewery giant has pledged to have at least 80% of all European brands labeled by the end of 2017.
And by the looks of it, AB InBev will not be alone.
Brewing a new culture of transparency?
AB InBev’s move is part of a gathering global trend for breweries to be more open about their products. The Beer Institute recently announced the Brewer’s Voluntary Disclosure Initiative, a scheme designed to serve customers the hard facts about their suds, including ingredients, nutritional information and brew date. Over 80% of American-sold beers are part of the initiative, with breweries such as MillerCoors, HeinekenUSA and the Craft Brew Alliance signed up to provide their customers with information on labeling as of now.
Europe has joined the trend too. The Brewers In Europe association, representing the entire European brewing sector, has committed to providing full data on ingredients, energy and nutritional values per 100 ml on labels (or in some cases via printed QR codes that direct consumers to the relevant information online).
What’s behind the culture-shift?
The fact that so many breweries are making such a serious move demonstrates their willingness to anticipate and react to changing consumer moods. It could also be argued that by voluntarily creating and conforming to their own industry standards, the businesses hope to stave off potentially more stringent external regulation. Certainly there’s an argument to be made that the calorific content of a beer doesn’t tell the whole truth about the healthiness of the drink itself, given that hops and vitamin levels aren’t necessarily being volunteered.
At what cost?
The practicalities and financial cost of the initiatives could weigh more heavily on smaller brewers, whose niched output caters to a more specialized market. Making label changes to a beer with limited output can eat into production budgets, whereas larger firms can spread the expenditure across larger sales volumes. Questions have also been raised about exactly what impact, if any, this could have on consumer choice. Some argue that nutritional information, no matter how visible, will never override influences such as taste preferences and brand loyalty. Many consumers simply won’t care.
Last call for blissful ignorance?
Voluntary transparency or ulterior motive – the path to clearer nutritional information is staked out. Like the UK’s food traffic-light labeling scheme, the shift towards enhanced consumer awareness puts knowledge, responsibility and autonomy in consumer hands, and it’s hoped to boost trust in suppliers. The challenge to support this trend now lies with breweries, packaging and labeling manufacturers and label printing machine suppliers to needed changes into place.
>> Case study: Coding cans and bottles for Firestone Walker