The industry still faces an uphill task to convince drinkers over low-alcohol beers

The industry still faces an uphill task to convince drinkers over low-alcohol beers

Lower-strength beers are helping to cut the consumption of alcohol units in the UK, but brewers are struggling to convince consumers that the products are “proper” alcohol, a Molson Coors’ director has said.

Speaking at the Alcohol in Moderation conference in London today (18 October), Scott Wilson, Molson Coors’ public affairs director, admitted that there are health lobby concerns that lower-abv products would merely add to unit consumption. Under the UK’s government’s responsibility deal, around 35 drinks firms pledged in March to cut 1bn units from products by 2015

Wilson, who co-chairs a low-alcohol group as part of the responsibility deal, admitted that the aim is “hugely ambitious”, but flagged up a “splash” announcement due next March on sales of lower-alcohol products. On this issue, he revealed that 81% of sales of its 2.8% abv Carling Zest, launched earlier this year, are being “stolen” from higher abv drinks.

But he admitted: “There is a preconception that low alcohol is not proper alcohol and that is something we are struggling with. There’s a perception that proper beer has to have a high abv.” The media has a part to play in changing this attitude, Wilson said. 

UK beer sales are declining, he said, and therefore lower-alcohol beer "makes sense to us as a business". “We have to be committed to something that is adding value to our business,” he said. 

Brewing lower-alcohol beers is “very hard” and a “challenge”, said Wilson, pointing to the fact that it has taken Coors 17 years, 700-plus recipes and GBP15m (US$24.2m) to come up with a product - Carling Zest - that it is happy with.
Meanwhile, new Portman Group guidelines on marketing around lower-alcohol products are expected next month, Wilson said. At present, products presented as "low alcohol" have to be 1.2% abv or below. 

Earlier in the day, Government minister Oliver Letwin, said that the coalition Government is pressing ahead with plans for a minimum price despite legal challenges forcing a delay to the measure in Scotland.