Portman Group calls for clarity on ‘confusing’ low-alcohol descriptors

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Running out: the current legislation about drinks labelling expires towards the end of this year
Running out: the current legislation about drinks labelling expires towards the end of this year
Drinks watchdog The Portman Group has urged the Government to simplify the terms used to describe low and no-alcohol beverages and provide “much-needed clarity and consistency”.

There are currently four descriptors that outline products containing low or no alcohol and, with the current labelling laws due to expire at the end of the year, the Government has launched a consultation to consider if the descriptors still resonate with consumers and the trade.


The categories of indicators prescribed by the legislation currently are:

  • Low alcohol – products between 0.5% and 1.2% ABV
  • De-alcoholised – products of 0.5% ABV or less where a process has been undertaken to remove the alcohol
  • Alcohol-free – products of 0.05% ABV or less
  • Non-alcoholic – products with 0% ABV but this term may not be used for products that are usually alcoholic such as beer or wine

The Portman Group’s recommendations include:

  • Raising the ‘alcohol-free’ threshold to 0.5% ABV from where it currently stands at 0.05% ABV to bring the UK in line with other European countries
  • Introducing a minimum strength of above 0.5% ABV to the category of low alcohol to go up and include 1.2% ABV
  • Removing the term ‘de-alcoholised’ as the watchdog claimed consumers find this wording confusing
  • The term ‘non-alcoholic’ is currently used to describe communion or sacramental wine. The Portman Group said ‘alcohol-free’ and ‘non-alcoholic’ could be used interchangeably to describe products of 0.5% ABV or less, which would reflect current market use and consumer perceptions

Portman Group CEO John Timothy said: “This consultation is really good news. The innovation in the low and no-alcohol categories being led by producers and retailers is a great success story, and this is an opportunity for the industry and Government to provide much-needed clarity and consistency for consumers."

Level playing field

The consultation

The Department of Health launched a consultation on how best to communicate information about low and no-alcohol drinks to the public, once the current legislation expires this December.

The Food Labelling Regulations 1996 laid out the rules for how low-alcohol drinks (drinks of 1.2% in volume, ABV, or less) may be described.

The current regulations are due to expire on 13 December 2018 and the Government is consulting on how best to continue to communicate information to the public about low-alcohol drinks.

The consultation ran from 15 March to 10 May 2018.

Timothy added: “Updating the thresholds in a way that will bring UK regulations in line with existing practice in the majority of European countries will create a level playing field for drinks producers.

“This is especially important as the market for low and no-alcohol drinks continues.”

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