Craft beers are a market phenomenon that refuses to cool down. Global sales are pushing through to double what they were just five years ago. And it doesn’t look as if they are about to slow any time soon. But, 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, who have announced that they will soon begin publishing full ingredient and nutritional information on their beer print labels. Values will cover energy, fats, saturated fats, sugars, proteins, carbohydrates and salt – both per portion and per 100ml. The brewery giant has pledged to have at least 80% of all European brands labelled 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 drink, 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 Craft Brew Alliance signed-up to provide their customers with information on labelling as of now.
Europe has caught on too. Brewers In Europe, representing the entire European brewing sector, has committed to providing full information on ingredients, energy and nutritional values per 100ml 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 taking such a serious move demonstrates willingness on their part 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 the potential for external regulation that may have been more stringent. 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 output is niche and caters to a more specialist market. Making label changes to a beer with limited output can eat into production costs, unlike the larger firms whose expenditure is spread 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 orders for blissful ignorance?
Whether voluntary transparency or ulterior motive, the path to clearer nutritional information has been laid. Like the UK’s food traffic light labelling scheme, the shift towards enhanced consumer awareness puts knowledge, responsibility and autonomy in consumer hands and – it’s hoped – will boost trust in suppliers. The challenge to support this trend now lies with breweries as well as packaging and labelling manufacturers and label printing machine suppliers to put into place the changes needed.
>> Case study: Coding cans and bottles for Firestone Walker