Page last updated: July 10, 2018

Low alcohol and alcohol-free drinks labelling in the UK


On 7 March politicians from all parties in the UK called for new, clear regulation on the labelling of low alcohol and alcohol-free drinks. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Alcohol Harm was joined by charity Alcohol Research UK and Club Soda, the mindful drinking movement.

Alcohol alternatives are increasing in popularity, but the way these drinks are labelled is confusing, primarily because the regulations surrounding their labelling are unclear – and is due to expire. The organisations believe if these are not replaced with better regulations, consumers will be left in the dark.

In a survey of more than 500 consumers, conducted by Alcohol Research UK and Club Soda, 86% of respondents said they bought these products because they were looking to reduce their overall alcohol consumption. However, many were confused by the labels, and found it hard to make sense of terms such as ‘alcohol-free’, ‘low alcohol’, ‘dealcoholised’ and ‘non-alcoholic’ – all of which currently have a different legal definition. Some products also use the term ‘light’ or ‘lite’ to mean low alcohol, where others use it to refer to calories.

Fiona Bruce, chair of the APPG on Alcohol Harm, said: “In the UK an increasing number of us are choosing to drink low alcohol and alcohol-free alternatives. But labelling is lagging behind consumer demand. “The Department of Health must give us common-sense regulations around the labelling of alcohol alternative drinks, so that we can make informed choices about our health.”

Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of the new charity formed by the merger of Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK, added: “We are joined by MPs from across the political spectrum in calling for the Department of Health to improve the regulations to ensure #ClarityForConsumers on low alcohol and alcohol-free products. “For us to reap the benefits of increasing choice in adult drinks, we need new regulations that are clear, consistent, and comprehensible. Critically, these regulations must be strongly influenced by what consumers themselves say they want and need,” he added.

On 15 Mar 2018 the UK Government opened a consultation on how best to continue to communicate information to the public about low alcohol drinks, so that adults can make informed choices when they purchase drinks, including alcohol. The consultation hopes to gather views on the introduction of recommended low alcohol descriptors through guidance rather than legislation and the current set of low alcohol descriptors and whether new ones should be added.

The consultation closed on 10 May 2018.

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