Expand ‘alcohol-free’ labelling to help support small independent breweries

Allowing beer of less than 0.5% ABV to be labelled as ‘alcohol-free’ would bring it in line with the EU and America, address the barriers to trade and provide clarity for consumers. However other labelling changes being considered could add further complexity and make it more difficult for small independent breweries to enter the market for no and low beer.

This is according to the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) which has responded to the Government’s consultation on changes to the no and low alcohol labelling descriptors which includes whether to raise the threshold for ‘alcohol-free’.

“The NoLo sector has increased year on year with our latest SIBA/YouGov poll showing that 18% of beer drinkers are consuming low alcohol beer, said Andy Slee, SIBA CEO. “For small independent breweries, NoLo is a fledgling sector and our members are increasingly looking to add new innovative low alcohol beers to their range but are hindered by confusing labelling guidance and the barriers to accessing the market. The Health Minister has the chance to provide clarity and address the inconsistencies and give a real boost to our independent breweries looking to response to increase consumer demand for tasty and interesting low alcohol beers.”

Currently, under the Department for Health and Social Care’s guidance for low alcohol products, beer has to contain no more than 0.05% ABV for it to be consider ‘alcohol-free’, but breweries in other countries including the United States and Germany, can freely use the label on their products below 0.5%. This means that imported beer can be labelled differently than home produced beer, disadvantaging small breweries.

Achieving the 0.05% strength is beyond the affordability for the vast majority of small breweries as it requires specialist and expensive brewing equipment to remove the alcohol from the beer.

The Government is also considering other labelling changes as part of the consultation including the ABV strength on the front of the label along with age restrictions and the Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines.

In its consultation response SIBA has called for the low alcohol descriptors to become:

  • Low alcohol – product must be 1.2% ABV or below; (no change to current)
  • Non-alcoholic – be applicable to any products below 0.5% ABV
  • Alcohol free – also be applicable to any products below 0.5% ABV
  • De-alcoholised – only applied to products that have undergone that specific process 

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