Alcohol industry to reduce the strength of wines and beers

Alcohol industry to reduce the strength of wines and beers

By William Smith

Over the past thirty years there has been a steady increase in the strength of wines and beers.  With hospital admissions for liver disease on the increase, as a direct result of alcohol consumption, it is time to reverse this trend.  The number of deaths from alcohol-related liver disease, particularly in people in their 40’s, is at an all-time high.

Andrew Lansley, Health Secretary, has now announced a new initiative by the alcohol industry to shed a billion units in a bid to cut hospital admissions and 1,000 deaths.  This is part of the Responsibility Deal and is being spearheaded by 34 leading companies.  Brands such as Echo Falls, First Cape and Heineken will ensure a greater choice of lower strength alcohol products by the year 2015.

It has been suggested by market intelligence that consumers are increasingly looking for lower strength wines.  Right across all retailers the demand for lower and non-alcoholic beer has increased by a staggering 40%.  The commitments from the alcohol industry include new and lighter products, innovating through existing brands and removing products from sale.

Sainsbury’s have pledged to double the sales of lighter alcohol wine and to reduce the average alcohol content of their own brand wine and beer by 2020.  Accolade Wines, who produce Echo Falls Rose and Echo Falls White Zinfandel will gradually remove 25 million units from these brands.

Also involved in this initiative is wine producer Phoenix who have committed to taking 50 million units of alcohol out of their wines.   This will be achieved by reducing 0.8 per cent ABV on all FirstCape full strength red wines.  The UK’s largest brewer, Molson Coors, has committed to remove 50 million units by December 2015. 

Heineken will remove 100 million units and own brand super-strength lager will be removed from sale by the wholesaler Makro.  The leading retailer of low alcohol drinks, Tesco, will reduce the alcohol content of its own-label beer and cider and expand its range of lower alcohol wines and beers.

Andrew Lansley has said that work continues to engage even more business and to get bigger results. ‘Cutting alcohol by a billion units will help more people drink sensibly and within the guidelines.  This pledge forms a key part of the shared responsibility we will encourage as part of the alcohol strategy.’

Estimate suggest that in a decade, removing one billion units from sales would result in almost 1,000 fewer alcohol related deaths per year; thousands of fewer hospital admissions and alcohol related crimes, as well as substantial savings to health services and crime costs each year.

Simon Antrobus, Chief Executive of Addaction said ‘This is a welcome step in the right direction, it helps to both raise awareness of the harm drinking can cause and brings us closer to changing the UK’s risky relationship with alcohol.’

He added  ‘At Addaction, we hear every day about the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. People who come to us for support tell us that, over the past two decades, the drinks they drink are getting stronger and how it doesn't take much for someone to drink more than they should to stay healthy. Should a woman have more than one large glass of wine, for example, then she'll already have drunk over the recommended daily limit.’

Antrobus concluded ‘Action taken by the drinks industry to lower the strength of alcohol is a welcome move but, if we want these important steps to help change behaviour in the UK, they have to be part of a wider series of actions that includes steps to address underage drinking and availability, as well as the provision of more specialist support for those who need it.’

In a double prong attack to crack down on binge drinking it has also been announced that the Government has introduced a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol.

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