One more study shows consumers use ingredient labels and that it influences what we buy
The Wine Curmudgeon has long advocated nutrition and ingredient labels for wine, but the response has been silence punctuated by more than a few cat calls. So, rather than continue to elicit abuse, consider this the final post on the subject. I can’t make the point any more forcefully other than to report this story:
An analysis of studies that looked at how labeling on food packaging, point-of-sale materials and restaurant menus prompted consumers to eat fewer calories and fat; reduce their choice of other unhealthy food option; and eat more vegetables.
What more do we need to know about the efficacy of labels? How much better off would wine be if each bottle listed calories, fat, and the like? Wouldn’t consumers benefit to know that there are about half the calories in a glass of wine than in a jelly doughnut? Wouldn’t they feel better knowing their wine was mostly fermented grape juice instead of something like Dr Pepper – with its 250 calories, high fructose corn syrup, and four percent of the daily value of sodium?
The wine business disagrees, and just not because it doesn’t want consumers to know wine sometimes has a lot more in it than fermented grape juice. Instead, I will get emails and comments citing another part of the study: Consumers “also selected 13 percent fewer other unhealthy food options such as sugar-sweetened beverages, alcoholic beverages, non-alcoholic caloric beverages, french fries, potatoes, white bread, and foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars or sodium.”
My answer: Doesn’t wine need to do something drastic when it’s compared to french fries, white bread, and sugar-sweetened beverages? When consumers think your product is as nasty as french fries, you’ve got nothing else to lose.
So read this, and know the way the world is going. And know that the wine business is headed in a completely different direction.
More about nutrition and ingredient labels:
Some small steps are being taken to let wine drinkers know what’s in their wine
The wine industry, terrified that we’ll balk at paying high prices for wine made with ingredients that aren’t grapes, has fought long and hard to prevent wine from carrying ingredient and nutritional labels. Even today, when almost everything else in the grocery store must have those labels, wine is exempt.
But there may progress in letting us know whether our wine is made with industrial adhesives:
• Vinepair reports that another small California winery, Donkey & Goat, has added ingredient labels to its wine. It joins a list that includes heavyweights Bonny Doon and Ridge, but which is still not nearly long enough.
• Two studies found that the best-selling categories over the past four years in the beleaguered grocery store business were fresh foods, more often meat and produce, that were “antibiotic free, no growth hormones and free of pesticides or fertilizers.” And how do we know this? Because those products say so on the label.
• The NPD Group, perhaps the leading food consultancy in the country, says about half of U.S. adults are trying eat less sugar and that we check ingredient labels for sugar more often than ever. And what is the leading wine style trend these days? Sweet red wine, which is made with added sugar. But no one knows, since there aren’t ingredient labels.
More about ingredient labels and wine:
• Nutritional labels for booze
• Wine falls further behind in nutrition and ingredient labels
• Wine, ingredient labels, and what’s next
The Food Marketing Institute, which gets paid to help sell food, says consumers want to know what’s in what they eat and drink
Dear Wine Business:
We’ve had our disagreements over the years about ingredient and nutrition labels, which I think are crucial for wine’s success in the 21st century. You, on the other hand, don’t seem interested, claiming that it’s too much trouble to fit a label on a wine bottle or that listing ingredients would just confuse consumers.
Both are excuses, and not reasons. That’s because I’m not the only who feels this way. The Food Marketing Institute, whose job is to help food companies market their products, says everything you need to know — but don’t want to acknowledge — in its 2017 report:
U.S. grocery shoppers want more than just information; they desire transparency that engages them, offering assurances of food safety, the pursuit of health and wellness, the appetite for discovery and a closer connection to food.
Wine’s popularity is facing pressure from all over – the decline in Baby Boomer consumption, which brought us where we are today; the indifference of younger consumers, whose tastes run to cider, craft beer, and artisan spirits; the financial pressures facing Millennials, who may not be able to afford to buy wine the way their parents and grandparents did; legal pot; and the neo-Prohibitionists, who insist that drinking is as deadly as smoking cigarettes.
Ingredient and nutrition labels would go a long way toward addressing those concerns, as well as to meet the challenges in the Food Marketing Institute’s report. Not adding labels makes it look like wine has something to hide, which the cynical among us think is what’s really going on. Answer me this: If the additives are legal, be they Mega Purple, a grape juice concentrate used to make wine darker, or food grade gelatin, used to clarify wine, what’s the problem with listing them? Or calories? Or whether wood chips or oak barrels were used?
We both want the same thing – a healthy and thriving wine business that helps Americans enjoy wine. Your approach is short-sighted and ignores the long-term, which is what I’m worried about. Who wants to write a wine blog about the joys of wine when fewer and fewer of us are drinking it?
The Wine Curmudgeon
This week’s wine news: The Italian Wine Guy makes sense about the International wine style, while kids drink too much and consumers want to know what’s in their wine
• Here to stay: Those of us who appreciate terroir and that wine should taste like where it comes from don’t much care for the International style of winemaking, where the goal is to make every wine taste like came from Paso Robles. Yet there is more to the international style, writes Alfonso Cevola, the Italian Wine Guy. For all of its excesses, and Cevola has seen all of them, the international style means accessible wines that are clean and made without flaws, something that European producers have struggled with for centuries. We’re spoiled in the second decade of the 21st century, when technically correct wine is the rule. But it wasn’t that long ago – in my early drinking days – when it wasn’t unusual to buy a bottle of wine that had soured, turned, or was made so badly you didn’t want to drink it.
• Kids will be kids: The “typical” British 25-year-old regularly experiences a blackout after drinking, according to a survey. The research found the respondents have blacked out five times after drinking alcohol since turning 18, with 17 per cent experiencing a blackout 10 times or more. And one than one-half of the 1,000 18- to 25-year-olds surveyed said they would probably do the same thing within a month. Sound hard to believe? Perhaps, and I’m a little wary of any survey commissioned by a TV network, as this was. Still, it jibes with what I’ve been told by several experts, who say the British have some serious social problems related to drinking.
• Transparency: Just in time to reinforce last week’s post about nutrition and fact labels (and thanks for all the nasty emails), comes this from Nielsen: “Three-quarters of global respondents strongly or somewhat agree that they’re concerned about the long-term health impact of artificial ingredients. … In addition, 69% strongly or somewhat agree that foods without artificial ingredients are always more healthful, and just over half (52%) strongly or somewhat agree that foods and beverages with fewer ingredients are more healthful, with agreement even stronger in North America (61%).” But whatever you do, wine business, don’t tell consumers what’s in their wine. What do consumers know, anyway?
More news last week that the food business is embracing ingredient transparency, and this included grocery stores — hardly the most progressive part of the food business. So why is wine still so adamant in opposing wine ingredient labels?
Panera, the high-end sandwich chain, said it would eliminate a variety of artificial preservatives, flavors and colors, as well as different kinds of sweeteners, reported the New York Times. This followed news that Nestle, which has been on the wrong side of many of these discussions, would eliminate artificial flavorings and colors from Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, and Nesquik. Meanwhile, Simon Unwins, former chief marketing officer for British mega-grocer Tesco, said it was time for his business “to be seen as leading the fight for less processed foods, on behalf of their customers.” And the woman at the deli counter at my local Kroger spent a couple of minutes telling me how the chain was eliminating fillers in its private label sandwich meat.
Said an expert quoted in the Times story: “To me, this has gone way beyond anything that could even be remotely considered a fad and become a powerful trend.”
Unless, of course, you’re in the wine business. Then you hold your breath, stomp your feet, and pound the table, shouting, “No, no, no, no!” when you do take a breath.
Which doesn’t accomplish much. As the expert noted, ingredient transparency is here to stay, whether the wine business wants it or not. Over the next couple of years, Big Wine will add ingredients and nutrition facts to its wine, thanks to the new voluntary program, and reap the benefits. And, as the rest of the wine business holds out for reasons that no one who isn’t in the wine business understands, consumers will start to wonder if wine has something to hide. The industry squeezed through the arsenic scare, but only because the people doing the scaring were so dodgy. What happens when the next scare comes from a consumer watchdog like the Center for Science in the Public Interest or the federal Centers for Disease Control, hardly well disposed toward wine? Or even the FDA?
Good luck squeezing through then.
One final note: It is possible, despite industry protestations to the contrary, to include nutrition facts on a wine bottle without the world coming to an end. This link shows how Toad Hollow did it on its Risque sparkling wine, which needed nutritional information because it was less than seven percent alcohol. Amazing how easy that was, isn’t it?