Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

Searching for ingredients and nutrition information on a wine label

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Providing ingredient and nutrition labeling for wine and other alcoholic beverages has not traditionally been required by federal law in the United States. However, with the European Union enacting a mandatory ingredient and nutrition labeling regulation for wine beginning in December, many industry experts are wondering if similar legislation will be forthcoming in the U.S. as well.

The big question is, do consumers really care about wine ingredient and nutrition labeling? In order to answer this query, Wine Market Council, a non-profit research organization that has been conducting research on the U.S. wine consumer since 1996, launched a study on this issue, in partnership with Merrill Research. They gathered responses from a sample of 1,005 U.S. wine consumers via an online survey in November of 2022, with some interesting results.

“The results show that 38% of U.S. consumers believe that an ingredient list should be included for wine, 42% for beer, 57% for hard seltzers, and 60% for RTD (ready to drink) cocktails,” stated Christian Miller, Research Director for Wine Market Council. The study also showed that consumers believe wine to have the lowest number of ingredients compared to beer, followed by hard seltzers; with RTD cocktails perceived to have the highest number of ingredients.

Wine Market Council Study on Ingredient/Nutrition Labeling for Alcoholic Beverages.

Wine Market Council and Merrill Research

Though I recently assumed the part-time position of president of the non-profit, Wine Market Council, I was not involved in conducting this particular study on Wine Ingredient & Nutrition Labeling.

Nutrition Labeling for Wine and Consumer Misperceptions

“Regarding nutrition labeling, only 25% of U.S. consumers currently think it should be included on wine labels, but this jumps to 33% for younger consumers under 40 years of age,” continued Miller.

When consumers were asked which nutrition information they were seeking, the first item they identified was calories, followed by amount of sugar, and then carbohydrates.

“Disturbingly, however, the study showed that nearly 50% of U.S. wine consumers believe that wine is high in added sugar,” stated Miller. In actual fact, the majority of wine doesn’t have any added sugar. Instead, during fermentation, the yeast eat all of the sugar in the grapes, turning the grapes into a dry wine. Even the majority of semi-sweet and sweet wines do not have sugar added – instead it is the natural sugar in the grapes or grape concentrate.

Another troubling finding of the study is that consumers are confused about the actual number of calories in wine, with 38% estimating the calories for a “typical restaurant serving of wine” to be from 100 to 149, and 23% believing it to be 200 calories or more. In reality, a 5-ounce glass of dry white wine averages only 120 calories and red wine averages 125 calories, with both having around 4 carbs, according to the USDA Food database.

These results suggest that the wine industry needs to do a better job of communicating that the typical wine is not made with added sugar and is lower in calories and carbs than many consumers believe it to be.

Why Alcoholic Beverage Ingredient Labeling Is More Important Now

The call for ingredient and nutrition labeling for alcohol has primarily been spurred on by the growing trend of health and wellness. Younger consumers around the world are more conscious of this trend now, especially in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, and are seeking more transparency from products.

There have also been a number of consumer lawsuits filed against wine, due to ingredients that may cause allergic reactions, and/or violate certain diets, such as a vegan diet. For example, a few wineries still use egg whites for fining, which could be an allergen for some people, and is not allowed in a vegan diet. Therefore, the lawsuits are asking that ingredients be listed.

The reason alcoholic beverages are exempt from adding ingredient and nutrition labeling like other beverages, is because alcohol is regulated by the TTB (Tax, Trade & Bureau) and not the FDA (Food & Drug Administration), like other food and beverage products. However, with mounting consumer pressure and the new E.U. regulation mandating ingredient and nutrition labeling for wine, experts are predicting that this could soon change in the U.S..

Cons of Wine Ingredient/Nutrition Labeling for Wineries

Though adding ingredient and nutrition information to wine labels and packaging has been allowed in the U.S. for many years now, the majority of wineries have elected not to do so, primarily for the following reasons:

Administrative Costs – An obvious downside is the added administrative costs of redesigning labels and packaging to include this information. Furthermore, label changes must be approved by the TTB, so this takes extra time. Though QR codes are one of the suggested solutions, the Wine Market Council study showed that only 15% of older consumers (aged 60+) were in favor of this compared to 46% of younger consumers (aged 21-29) who liked QR codes. This could be highlighting a QR code technology gap in the generations.

Documentation – Another con is the need to document all ingredients added to wine. Though the majority of small wineries add very few ingredients (usually just grapes, yeast, yeast food, and sulfur-dioxide as a preservative to wine), there are some years when the weather is more challenging to the grapes, and approved additives may be used. Currently the TTB allows around 75 additives to wine. It could be distressing to some consumers to see a longer list of additives than they expected.

Examples of Wine Labels With Ingredients and/or Nutrition Information (Bonny Doon & Sunny With a … [+] Chance of Flowers)

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Pros of Wine Ingredient/Nutrition Labeling for Wineries And Consumers

Despite the drawbacks, there are several positive aspects of providing ingredient and nutrition labeling on wine packaging:

Correcting Consumer Misconceptions – A major advantage is that many of the consumer misconceptions about added sugar and high calories can be corrected. Consumers can feel more comfortable and safe knowing that most wine doesn’t have added sugar, is relatively low in calories and carbs, and is primarily made with a few simple ingredients – mainly grapes.

This is why Heidi Scheid, EVP of Scheid Family Wines decided to provide nutrition labeling on their wine brand, Sunny with a Chance of Flowers. The label includes calories, carbs, protein, fat, lists zero sugar, and is only 9% alcohol.

“Today’s consumer is curious! They ask questions and want to know more about what they’re putting into their bodies. We hear from so many Sunny drinkers that they appreciate the information and transparency, and we believe it’s invaluable in building brand loyalty,” reported Scheid in an email interview.

Consumer Allergen Safety – Another benefit is that consumers who are allergic to certain wine fining agents, such as albumen (egg whites), casein (skim milk), and Isinglass (fish) will be able to read this on the label and avoid those wines. Likewise, consumers on strict vegetarian or vegan diets, will also be made aware of this.

Indeed, this is partially the reason that Randall Grahm, Founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard and current owner of Popelouchum Estate, was one of the first wine businesses to use ingredient labeling in 2008.

“I’m a strong proponent of ingredient labeling. It is not just the ethical thing to do. We really do owe it to people who have medical, personal, or religious issues with the presence of this or that additive in their wine to accurately represent the wine’s relevant contents,” said Grahm in an online interview.

Potential Increased Wine Sales – Given that U.S. wine volume sales are currently losing market share to spirits, especially to RTD cocktails that often include calories and carbs on the container, by providing ingredient and nutrition labeling on wine, consumers can feel more confident about their wine purchases, resulting in potential increased wine sales. Furthermore, any U.S. winery that is currently or hoping to export their wine to the E.U. will need to do this anyway.

TTB Launching Public Comments Forum on Alcohol Ingredient Labeling

Some good news is that the TTB has recently announced that they are getting ready to open an online public comment forum on the topic of ‘Ingredient Labeling of Distilled Spirits, Wines, and Malt Beverages ANPRM’ (RIN: 1513-AC95). It is expected that the forum will be open for several months so the TTB can gather information on how U.S. consumers and the wine, beer, and spirits industry feel about this issue.

When I contacted the TTB on the timing of the forum, Tom Hogue, TTB Spokesperson, responded via email: “While we try to be as transparent as possible about anticipated timelines and next steps, actual timing of any rulemaking effort is subject to competing priorities and unforeseen events impacting our budget and/or scheduling.”

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