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Drinkaware accuses trade of not doing enough to promote unit guidelines

Published:  04 April, 2014

Drinkaware says consumers are confused over unit guidelines and called on the industry to do more.

While the drinks trade broadly supports this message, some are aggrieved because the steps suggested by Drinkaware are either already being done or are in progress.

Research carried out for the alcohol education charity suggests that just over two thirds of those surveyed don't recognise how many units they can drink if they want to stay inside the lower risk guidelines. Nor can most identify the number of units in a glass of wine or a pint of beer. 

To combat the problem the charity urges the trade to promote 125 ml wine glasses - which venues have been legally required to do as part of the Licensing Act since 2010.

Furthermore, it calls on retailers to offer unit information on packaging. As part of the Responsibility Deal, the trade voluntarily agreed to provide such information on 80% of off-trade packaging by December 2013. It also committed to including information on lower-risk drinking guidelines and a warning about drinking when pregnant. An audit into this pledge's progress is due to be carried out by the Department of Health but is likely to take a number of months. spoke to Tesco, who pointed out that all of its own wines list 'Know your limits' information, which includes the maximum recommended number of units for both men and women, as well as the number of units contained in the bottle and also in a 125ml glass.

Its Tesco Finest* Marlborough Pinot Noir contains 10.1 units/bottle, and informs customers a 125ml glass contains 1.7units.

Mitchells & Butlers, which operates 1,600 pubs, bars and restaurants under brands including All Bar One, O'Neills and Toby Carvery, said it already serves wine in 125ml glasses as stipulated by law.

Drinkaware also called for on-trade venues to offer drinks in a glass with a unit line marked. While some venues already offer this, it would be difficult, especially for wine, where abv can vary significantly between products, to offer this across the board. It would be a huge cost for operators to absorb where this measure introduced, and it's not clear whether the UK government would be able to enforce such a measure or whether it would require EU intervention.

A spokeswoman for M&B said that its glassware differs across the estate, with some outlets using lined and others unlined wine glasses. In addition, the company says it is proactive when it comes to pushing the Drinkaware message. Where it has the opportunity on its promotional materials and on its website it links to the Drinkaware site and unit calculator, as well as incorporating a unit table on "a number of our drinks menus to help build customer understanding".

Elaine Hindal, Drinkaware's chief executive, said: "It's clear that the unit guidelines aren't working.  It's not just that most people don't know them, it's that they don't know how to apply the guidelines to the drink in front of them. 

"Supersizing alcohol portions isn't good for any of us. One simple change which could make a real difference would be to take the 125ml wine glass out of hiding. Pubs and restaurants are obliged to offer a 125ml serving but most advertise the 175 ml serving as a standard size and 250 ml as a large. You often have to go to the small print at the bottom of the menu to find out that a 125ml serving is even available and usually it's not even priced." 

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, said: "It is widely accepted that improving consumer awareness of unit guidelines is vital to changing patterns of harmful consumption.  

"That is why the industry has committed, as part of the Responsibility Deal, to ensuring 80% of all alcohol products contain labels with unit content, lower-risk drinking guidelines and a warning about drinking when pregnant. 

"The Chief Medical Officer is currently reviewing the unit guidelines. Any fundamental changes to the guidelines that undermine consumer awareness would be counterproductive."

In a recent independent audit Drinkaware was found to be too cosy with the alcohol firms that fund it, leading it to work more closely with the public health lobby.