Comment - Diageo's Nutrition Labels Give Industry Something to Digest

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For a company sometimes viewed as large and ponderous, Diageo last week did a good job of outmanoeuvring its rivals.

Nutritional information is wide-spread in other industries

Nutritional information is wide-spread in other industries

Its pledge to label global products such as Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker with detailed nutritional information may not be ground-breaking - soft drinks makers and food companies have been doing it with their products for some time. But it is certainly a first in an alcohol industry that up to now has limited most of its calorie contents and sugar levels to consumer websites, if at all. 

However, though Diageo has for now seized the moral high-ground in the debate over corporate responsibility and health, other drinks companies are busy lining up initiatives of their own. Indeed, in this regard, Diageo is only days ahead of the curve.

On Thursday, the Brewers of Europe is to announce a new commitment from its more than 5,000 members - including Heineken, Carlsberg and SABMiller - on nutritional information for consumers. Details on the commitment have not yet been released but the organisation said the information will be in addition to the alcohol content already required under EU laws.

A Heineken spokesperson told just-drinks that on top of spearheading the Brewers of Europe initiative, the company has been testing different levels of what it calls “disclosure” on labelling across a number of its markets, and especially in the Netherlands.

A spokesperson for Carlsberg said the company had also been working with the Brewers of Europe ahead of Thursday's announcement to find “a solution for the entire industry” on nutritional labels. Asked if any of this work will follow Diageo's lead and spread to Carlsberg's global markets, the spokesperson said: “Watch this space”.

SABMiller is also signed up to the new commitment but adds that the company has since 2008 included all nutritional and ABV information for all of its beers on the website 

“Health and wellbeing have become increasingly important to our consumers in recent years and providing this information allows consumers to make informed choices,” a spokesperson told just-drinks in a statement.

According to Spiros Malandrakis, Euromonitor's senior industry analyst for alcoholic drinks, Diageo had been working towards last week's announcement for more than a decade, with differing regulatory issues in individual markets holding back a workable global plan. Even now, Diageo admits that it may not be able to implement its initiative in every country.

But, says Malandrakis, not all consumers are demanding nutritional information, and the labels will be aimed mainly at health-conscious markets such as the US, where they are due to roll out first.

“I think it will find a niche in Diageo's core demographic, but I don't think it will be a massive game-changer,” he says. “It's primarily to showcase that they are taking the initiative.”

Malandrakis doubts that the alcohol industry will fall in step with Diageo's plan, at least not on the same global scale. However, when it comes to labelling, he says there are more important consideration than simple nutrition.

“There are different priorities in consumers minds at the moment - traceability, use of sustainable methods, putting back money into the community where it's made,” Malandrakis said. “These have been the drivers in the craft segment both in beer and in spirits, and they are beyond what goes on the label.”

This may have been on Pernod Ricard's mind last week, when in response to Diageo's plan, it said that labels may not be the best way to best way to give consumers information

The French company is well known for its technological slant, having appointed a head of digital in 2013. CEO Alex Ricard has also said he is keen to lead digital innovation and told Fortune last year that he will invest 20% of the marketing budget in it.

Labels that can be accessed by smartphones are already in development - by Diageo, no less - and offer consumers far more information than a traditional bottle label can. 

Perhaps by the time Diageo's nutritional labels start rolling out, they won't be worth the paper they are written on.     

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