A couple of weeks ago, the UK government unveiled plans to combat Britain’s obesity crisis, in a bid to get the nation fit and healthy.
As part of the campaign, the government proposed new measures, one being highlighting ‘liquid calories’ on alcoholic drinks – a move I firmly believe should have been introduced a long time ago, but a step I don’t think goes far enough.
According to the Department of Health and Social Care, alcohol accounts for nearly 10% of calories drinkers consume in the UK, yet there is currently no requirement for brands to provide information on the calorie content in alcohol. Meanwhile, obesity has long been one of the UK’s biggest health crises, with almost two-thirds of adults in England being either overweight or living with obesity.
What’s more, obesity-related illnesses currently cost the NHS £6bn a year, but alcohol brands in this country aren’t required to be transparent with consumers on what exactly they’re putting into their bodies – from both a calorie and nutritional standpoint. While a handful of brands do of course call out calories on their packaging, it isn’t standardised for consumer clarity and isn’t consistent with the wider consumer food and drink sector.
In order for this strategy to be successful, brands need to be clearly labelling everything – calories, carbs, sugar and fats – all in line with what consumers are used to seeing on food. At the very least products should have a consistent nutritional label in line with other consumer goods.
However, I would like to see the industry go further. Ninety per cent of consumers have already confirmed the current ‘traffic light’ labelling system helps them make informed purchasing decisions, so I would recommend a move in this direction for alcohol too. Help the public make healthier choices and enable consumers to see the values classified as low, medium and high.
This crucial education piece is missing from the current strategy and is absolutely imperative in order for it to be successful. The government needs to ensure brands are providing the public with full insight into the true contents of everything they consume. It’s a huge misconception that alcohol doesn’t have that many calories, with the majority of UK adults completely unaware of exactly what’s in the common drinks they’re regularly consuming. This is the problem we have to solve.
As the government highlighted in its strategy, 3.4 million adults in the UK are consuming as much as an additional day’s worth of calories per week – which is the equivalent to two additional months of food per year unknowingly, so there’s clearly a need for government to implement a larger-scale awareness campaign.
It’s vital the government hones further in on the broader issue during the consultation and implements a law to ensure brands are fully transparent with consumers on exactly what they’re drinking – not just calories, but nutritional values in their entirety.
However, as part of the legislation, there needs to be more direction for brands too. As it stands, there is currently very little guidance to enable manufacturers to align themselves with “healthier”, reduced-calorie alcohol products, and the government has a duty to resolve this ongoing issue. Trading and advertising standards need to be addressed at the same time too – it’s as important to ensure brands change their labelling as it is for policy to change with them.
There are currently no guidelines around what is considered high, medium or low when it comes to the sugar, carbohydrate and other nutritional contents found in alcohol. These are key elements for manufacturers to successfully develop products to help meet the overall Better Health goals of improving Britain’s health and reducing waistlines.
While I do sympathise when brands highlight the cost concern to adhere to such changes in legislation, the ethical factor is much bigger here. As the government continues to showcase its commitment to getting the UK fitter, it’s important that manufacturers strive to be fully transparent on all contents, in turn setting themselves up for success by futureproofing their product lines. If anything, the events of recent months have really highlighted the importance of encouraging the British public to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Consumer demand for lighter calorie choices has also exploded over the past 18 to 24 months and changes to work and living patterns have accelerated this. I believe this national shift to a healthier lifestyle has played a pivotal role in our growth as people exercise more, eat healthy and improve their lifestyle, while still wanting to enjoy their favourite drinks. For this very reason, it’s been incredibly surprising to see the government dragging its heels on this move for such a long time.
The younger generation, particularly millennials and gen Zs, are proving to be very much health-conscious consumers and I know every brand is desperately trying to find ways to engage these consumers who are turning their heads at old school, traditional brands and products. When brands innovate and adopt this, I firmly believe the move will change the industry for the better and those disconnected consumers will re-engage.
The big brands who are scared of telling consumers what is in their beers, wines or spirits will need to rethink and align to a new strategy. While it will no doubt be a heavy lift early on, I’m confident the ROI will outweigh the initial work and these businesses will reap the rewards long-term.