Sightlines — Voluntary Disclosure Initiative Announced by the Beer Institute

Michael Kiser

THE GIST
Washington DC-based beer trade association The Beer Institute yesterday announced the launch of a strategy called the Brewers Voluntary Disclosure Initiative. This push for greater consumer transparency asks brewers of all sizes to display caloric and nutritional information on packaging and through their websites. AB-InBev, MillerCoors, Heineken USA, Constellation Brands, North American Breweries and Craft Brew Alliance have already agreed to adopt these guidelines.

WHY IT MATTERS
This has been coming for a long time. Alcoholic beverages have long escaped the legislation that applies to other foodstuffs that are required to display this information. However these guidelines that have been set out by the Beer Institute are just that, guidelines. Despite backing from six major brewing corporations this does not automatically mean that your favorite craft brewer will be displaying the sometimes-alarming caloric content of their latest BA imperial stout.

What will be interesting is to see who in the craft sector does decide to follow this initiative and display this information – and who potentially decides to rail against it. If AB-InBev’s portfolio of brands begins to display this information, will independents feel pressured to follow suit?

The largest previous push for labelling targeted large retailer chains where a large volume of beer is consumed, but not as much specialty or one-off products. Such a rule would affect larger breweries more than small craft in terms of occasions to label, however, the burden of compliance would likely affect smaller craft much more in terms of costs and complexity, and make it harder for them to compete in chain sales. This more recent initiative being voluntary could provide the buffer needed between the industry and Washington's desire to make reasonable in-roads for the vast majority of consumers and the beers they drink (which is still macro light lagers). 

Consumers have, for the most part, long been aware that beers, especially craft beers, have a wide range in calorie content. If and when breweries decide to display this information on their packaging, will it have an immediate impact on purchasing decisions or will people carry on enjoying their favorite beverage without worrying too much about their waistline? 

— Matthew Curtis + Michael Kiser