What IS going on with alcohol-free labelling?

I’ll just say it – the law in the UK for alcohol-free labelling is a joke. It’s a complete mess.

When it comes to alcohol-free adult drinks there’s only four terms you can use.

The first one is non-alcoholic but we can only use that for communion wine so it has a fairly limited appeal.

The next one is alcohol-free which is for drinks of up to 0.05% alcohol by volume.

Then we have de-alcoholised which is for drinks up to 0.5%

And then low alcohol which is for drinks up to 1.2%.

So what’s the problem? Frankly everything.

Most alcohol-free drinks in the world contain up to 0.5%. That’s an accepted level of alcohol because it’s impossible to get drunk on it.

It’s like gluten-free food – that contains some gluten, but it’s so small it has no impact.

Consumers ask for alcohol-free beers or non-alcoholic beers.

We don’t even need a license to sell them.

But because they contain up to 0.5%, we can’t officially call them non-alcoholic or alcohol-free – at least not in the UK.

You can in most of Europe and around the world.

Adult alcohol-free drinks have never been as popular in the UK as they are now and there’s an increasing number of producers who are making these drinks.

But when it comes to labelling and marketing them, they’re stuck.

They can’t call them alcohol-free unless they’re under 0.05%, which most aren’t.

De-alcoholised doesn’t make sense, because they aren’t de-alcoholised.

That’s when you make it at a higher level and reduce the alcohol.

So that only leaves low alcohol, and that’s up to 1.2% and I think to
most people – certainly to me if I didn’t know the law – I’d think that was about 2%.

You know what makes this so much worse?

Soft drinks are not covered by this law.

Take Fentimans – nothing against them personally, just as an example.

It’s a botanically brewed soft drink.

They used to label it as containing up to 0.5% alcohol.

Then they realised that the law meant they didn’t need to.

So one day it just disappeared.

But if you make an alcohol-free beer with the same level of alcohol as Fentimans, you cannot call it an alcohol-free beer even if you put 0.5% on.

That’s just utter madness

Now we’ve taken part in so many consultations with the government since 2006 that I’ve lost track.

And, seriously from filming the intro to this and now, I was checking my email and we just had another invitation to another consultation.

It’s a joke.

Apart from the fact that the growing alcohol-free industry in the UK is being hindered by these laws, it’s worse.

These laws are about to expire.

Basically, in 2014, we changed the labelling laws but they couldn’t decide on the alcohol-free part so they took it out and left the existing broken laws and said we’ll keep them ’til December 2018.

By then someone will probably, maybe, fix them…

Guess what? No one has fixed them.

So, if nothing happens between now and December, they’ll just stop and it’ll be a free-for-all.

That can’t happen.

It’s really simple in my view.

We need to do what any sensible country would do which is allow any
drink up to 0.5% to be called alcohol-free.

Now on the front label you’d need to put ‘contains up to 0.5%’ but it’s that simple.

The alternative is to extend the current broken law or just have a free-for-all.

Producers, retailers, consumers – we all deserve the right to make and sell and enjoy these drinks without all these problems.

The UK lags so far behind the rest of Europe when it comes to choice and a take-up of these drinks.

Now, partly that’s cultural but it’s also to do with how hard it is to market and produce these drinks here.

Please contact your MP tell them the problem, highlight the urgency of the issue, and whatever your view on the actual labelling is just ask them to do something – because at the moment the industry is in trouble.