The Portman Group and the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) jointly commissioned research into alcohol related health information on alcohol labels, to inform the industry’s self-regulatory process. The research was carried out by Britain Thinks.
The research found that the British public prioritise clear factual product information over health information and advice on alcohol labels when it comes to choosing what to drink. Consumers are most familiar with ABV (or alcohol by volume) with 75% of the public naming ABV as being part of an alcohol label compared to 29% who think in terms of units. 70% felt the balance between product information and health-related information, such as units and pregnancy warnings, is about right. 81% say it is important to include ABV and 68% wanted container unit content. The report suggests that there is more that can be done to make labels clearer and less cluttered. The research also identified that consumers are most likely to report that they look at alcohol labels in the shop before purchasing the alcohol. Alcohol labels are read far less frequently after the alcohol has been purchased.
John Timothy, Portman Group Chief Executive said: “In preparing the new voluntary guidance for producers, it was important for us to understand how consumers interact with the products they buy. This excellent research from BritainThinks provides clarity and insight on what matters to shoppers. It shows us that first and foremost people use labels to get factual information on the product in hand – in the vast majority of cases, they are not looking for or thinking about health advice. In a digital age we need to be finding smarter ways to communicate complex multi-faceted health and lifestyle information that is personalised and tailored to people’s individual lifestyles and preferences. While it is hugely important that consumers are able to access healthrelated advice and guidance, we need to remember that labels are simply one channel through which to deliver that.” In 2017 Portman Group, together with leading sector trade associations, published voluntary guidance for drinks producers on communicating health related information. The BritainThinks and Populus polling helped to inform that guidance. The Royal Society of Public Health published their report ‘Labelling the Point’ in January that assesses the potential of better labelling of off-trade (i.e. retail) alcohol to help raise awareness and moderate alcohol consumption and harm. This includes both better presentation of existing elements, and the addition of new ones such as calorie content and explicit health warnings.
The report states that awareness and use of current health information on alcohol labels is low. ABV is the primary driver of purchasing and drinking decisions, with alcohol units insufficiently understood to facilitate their practical use – they are effectively useless without clear linkage to CMO guidelines. Other health information elements, such as pregnancy warnings, are rarely noticed. This is a result of poor positioning, small size, and ineffective use of colour and font. Futhermore the report argues that presenting health information on the front of labels is critical to maximising exposure, so elements with the greatest potential to influence behaviour must be identified and presented there. However, presenting too much information leads to counterproductive information overload, so it is necessary to prioritise.