Dry January? No/lo drinks to start 2021

26 January 2021. Published by Ciara Cullen, Partner and Elizabeth Zang, Associate

The popularity of no/lo drinks has skyrocketed with no/lo drinks toppling craft beer as the UK's top tipple in 2020 (the SIBA British Craft Beer Report 2020).

In addition, with bars and restaurants continuing to face lockdown measures in the wake of COVID-19, many beverages, from cocktails to "hard" versions of traditionally non-alcoholic drinks (such as "hard" coffee and Kombucha) are making their way into cans. Entering these novel spaces has certain challenges for brands but those who can navigate look set to tap this growing market.

Ones to watch

So what should brands look out for when creating and marketing a successful no/lo product? We've identified the following key features for consideration:

  • Naming: When deciding on the all-important name of products, or slogans placed on the packaging, care must be taken to ensure that they do not sound too similar to protected products and that any "low-alcohol" or "alcohol-free" claims comply with Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011. As covered in our previous edition, the alcohol-free sparkling wine brand "Nosecco" had to change their name as it was too similar to "Prosecco" which, as a protected designation of origin product, is afforded a high level of protection.
  • Health claims: For lo (as opposed to no alcohol products) brands also have to be careful about making health claims – see the ASA's guidance on this, including here and here.
  • Green claims: Care will need to be taken when making "green" claims about products. The ASA released useful guidance in 2020 which highlighted the importance of being able to properly substantiate any sustainability claims. The CMA  is also taking a robust stance on this point, announcing it will investigate descriptions and labels used to promote products and services claiming to be ‘eco-friendly’, and whether they could mislead consumers.
  • Packaging: Under Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, no alcoholic beverage containing more than 1.2 % ABV may make health claims  in the EU.  For low-alcohol or alcohol-free beverages (i.e. 1.2% ABV or less), manufacturers should ensure that such beverages bearing an ingredient list, nutrition declaration, and ensure that any nutrition claims comply with the following:

"Low-alcohol": must have an alcoholic content of 1.2% volume or less and state the alcoholic strength on the packaging.

"Alcohol-free": must have an alcoholic content of 0.05% volume or less and state the alcoholic strength on the packaging.

  • Allergens: New products and related allergens will need to be appropriately verified and labelled.
  • Confidentiality: It's of course important that new products are protected whilst they are still in development through the use of NDAs and other appropriate protections – especially in the context of designs, imagery and samples being shared more online as opposed to in person. Brands should also consider whether trade secrets protection could assist / be an option for them.
  • Legal clarity: Remember that as a brand in the industry, if the law or guidance on your new product isn't clear, consider lobbying relevant trade bodies for guidance and clarification, as they'll be talking to policymakers.
  • Quality control: and finally, remember there can be challenges with producing no/lo products using facilities that were originally designed to manufacture their alcoholic counterparts. As covered in Issue 21 of RPC Bites, Diageo was forced to recall its entire stock of alcohol-free Guinness 0.0 owing to fears of "the possible presence of mould in the products". This involved a significant operation to recall all of the Guinness 0.0 from shelves and communicate this message to consumers. Guinness have stated that they will only resume production once the product "meets the highest standards of quality". This incident raises the additional issue of quality control when repurposing your facilities.

While no/lo product production might pose some unique challenges, the boom in popularity is showing no signs of stopping and, with plenty of room for growth in this market, we think this will be a key space to watch over the coming months.


The SIBA British Craft Beer Report 2020

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