Call for improved alcohol labelling as new study reveals 'better-for-you' claims may mislead consumers

9 Aug 2022

Cancer Council Victoria is warning consumers to beware of health-oriented marketing claims for alcohol products, with new research finding alcohol products that feature these claims still tend to be classified as full-strength and just over 10% provide any nutrition information.  

The study surveyed all beer, ciders, ready-to-drink pre-mixed drinks and selected wines from a leading retailers’ website and found that claims of being natural or containing fruit were the most common claims featured. Claims on sugar and carbohydrate content were the most common relating to the product’s nutrition profile. 

A national survey of Australian adults has shown that over 75% of those who had drunk alcohol in the past 12 months believed that health-oriented marketing claims (such as ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘low carb’, ‘no added sugar’, ‘low calorie’) meant that an alcoholic drink was better for them than a product without these claims1. 

Dr. Ashleigh Haynes, David Hill Research Fellow at Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer and lead author of the study said that the alcohol industry is increasingly positioning their products as ‘healthier options’ to respond to the growing health consciousness and decreasing alcohol consumption in Australia.  

“At a time when Australians are becoming more focused on their health, we should be supporting efforts to live healthier lifestyles. Instead, alcohol companies are capitalising on this shift, using health-related marketing claims to trick consumers into thinking their alcohol products are healthy, when in reality, alcohol has significant negative health impacts.”  

“Alcohol is one of the leading risk factors contributing to Australia’s disease burden and its consumption is linked to many serious illnesses, including at least seven different types of cancer. 

“Alcohol is also very high in kilojoules, which can lead to excess weight gain, overweight and obesity. For Australian drinkers, alcohol is the largest source of energy in the diet from unhealthy products, making up 13.4% of their overall intake2.  

“Promoting that a full-strength alcohol product is better for you because it doesn’t contain added sugar, is ‘organic’ or contains ‘fruit ingredients’ is just marketing spin to distract from these serious health harms.”    

Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition said the lack of information available online was just another way alcohol companies are making it difficult for consumers to make informed decisions for their health.  

“By not providing access to basic information like energy content, that is standardised across all products, consumers must rely solely on these health-oriented marketing claims without being able to verify them or compare products to make an informed decision,” she said. 

Ms Martin said that higher standards needed to be set for alcohol labelling to ensure consumers aren't being misled with promotional claims and statements. 

“Alcohol in any amount is harmful to health and alcohol companies shouldn’t be allowed to use these promotional claims to imply that these harmful products are better for you. 

“Alcohol labelling is currently under consideration by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). This is a critical opportunity for us to improve the current labelling standards for alcohol to ensure consumers have access to basic information to make an informed purchase and aren’t being misled by marketing claims. 

“Making kilojoule energy content mandatory on all alcohol products and stopping claims about sugar and carbohydrate content is an important first step to ensure alcohol labelling is more transparent and that consumers can compare products objectively. It’s time we put the health of Australians above the profits of the alcohol industry,” she said.  

Emma Saleeba, Commercial Determinants of Health Manager at VicHealth, a partner of the Obesity Policy Coalition agreed that these claims pose a significant health risk to consumers.  

“Alcohol companies continue to bombard us with marketing on a daily basis. It’s critical that we are presented with the honest health risks upfront when viewing these products,” Saleeba said. 

About the research:  

An audit was conducted on all health-oriented marketing featured on all beer, cider, and ready-to-drink premixed drinks (RTDs), and selected wines on the website of the largest liquor retailer in Australia between July and December 2020.  

Nutrition information was sought from manufacturer/brand websites to identify availability or partial availability of nutrition information across all products surveyed.