- In addition to food items, the Food and Drug Administration’s menu labeling requirements will also require chain restaurants with more than 20 locations to list calorie information for alcoholic beverages on their menus. The requirements go into effect in May.
- According to The Wall Street Journal, the practice of including calorie information is not widespread in the beer, wine or spirits industries, though some manufacturers make it available online. Two years ago, beer giants including AB InBev, MillerCoors and Heineken said they would voluntarily disclose calories by 2020.
- The initial goal of the menu labeling law, which was included as part of the Affordable Care Act, was to curb obesity rates. Early studies have found that calorie counts can influence choices. Research from Cochrane, for example, shows that orders contain nearly 8% fewer calories when that information is disclosed on menus.
The FDA’s menu labeling regulations were initially passed in 2010. Numerous delays in the eight years since underscore just how complex the requirements are — particularly when it comes to variable products like pizza or cocktails.
For alcohol manufacturers, appealing to calorie counters is tricky. Spirits – unlike menus – can’t just be reformulated for lower calorie counts. Often arbitrary amounts of mixers amplify those calorie counts.
Still, menu labeling laws aside, consumers are demanding healthier food and drinks. Soda and sugary cereal sales have rapidly declined, while products that tout specific health claims have shown the strongest uptick in sales in the $33 billion snacking category.
This demand has also translated to alcohol. Skinnygirl Cocktails sold for $100 million just two years after its launch, and lower-calorie Michelob Ultra has turned in double-digit sales growth year after year.
Whether or not this demand is the cause or an effect of menu labeling is a non-issue because it doesn’t appear to be going away. Additionally, once this calorie information exists on menus across the country, consumers will come to expect the transparency. According to Nielsen research from 2016, 72% of beer drinkers said it’s important to read nutritional labels.
As an indulgence at restaurants, booze could be relatively unaffected by menu labels, especially compared to a items like desserts that can be swapped for healthier choices. Still, as nutritional information becomes even more ubiquitous, and consumers become even more judicious, alcohol manufacturers are smart to respond with more options in order to keep up.