Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Trade speaks out on lower-alcohol wines

Published:  16 August, 2013

The trade has hit back at the government's renewed efforts to encourage producers to manufacture lower-alcohol alternatives in a bid to reduce alcohol abuse among the middle-classes.

The Telegraph reported yesterday the government is continuing to ramp up its European campaign to redefine the term "wine", to include the drinks that contain little or even no alcohol, and reduce the minimum strength of alcohol from 8.5% to 4.5% abv.

The latest round of EU negotiations over the Common Agricultural Policy failed to reach an agreement on redefining wines to include alcohol-free drinks, due to opposition from other wine-producing countries, which The Telegraph said was likely to have included France, Italy and Portugal.

However, the move has come at a time when the trade is split over how the category should be developed and when low-alcohol wine (0.5%-5.5% abv) sales in particular are in double-digit decline. Nielsen figures show wines up to 5.5% abv have fallen by 21% in volume and 15% in value in the past 12 weeks (MAT to July 20, 2013).

Giles Cooke MW, wine development director at Alliance Wines, thinks the government's move should be "resisted".

He said: "Only by persuading retailers and consumers to drink less and drink better will we tackle the alcohol issue in a sustainable way."

He added: "We should also be concerned that in the long run, if the government were successful in reducing the alcohol level as described, the current advantages of lower duty on wines below 5.5% abv are also likely to be removed, which would put retail listings in jeopardy or place further pressure on producers and distributors."

David Gleave MW, managing director at Liberty Wines, said: "If the government's aim is achieved, we'll be dealing with the consequences for quite some time to come."

He added, low-alcohol wines that have had the alcohol removed and that are not naturally produced have failed to take off because they "don't pass the consumer taste test".

"The process of de-alcoholising wines in order to arrive at a low-alcohol product is a bastardisation of the wine. I don't think it will do anything to lower the amount people drink; if anything, it will further commoditise wine, remove it from its rightful place at the table and turn it into an alcoholic beverage that is drunk so people get drunk."

Rooting for the government's proposals, WSTA chief executive Miles Beale said: "When it comes to promoting lower-alcohol alternatives we need to focus on removing unnecessary regulations which restrict producers' ability to respond to consumer demand.

"That is why the WSTA supports a change to existing European regulations which currently prevent producers from removing any more than 2% abv from wine." 

A government spokesperson said it wants to encourage alcohol manufacturers to make lower-alcohol alternatives and the rules do not help its cause.

"We will continue our efforts to change EU wine rules, to allow all wine producers to make and market lower-alcohol products. This will help to promote healthier choices and tackle the serious harm alcohol causes," they said.