News round-up: Trends in wine and beer labeling

News round-up: Trends in wine and beer labeling

Though there are undoubtedly interesting developments and examples of quality work in many aspects of the packaging and labeling universe, few corners of this industry show quite as many intriguing and creative trends on a regular basis as the worlds of beer and wine packaging.

"Beer and wine continue to have some of the most interesting packaging in all of retail."

In both the macro- and microbrewing spaces, as well as all across the spectrum of the wine market, designers and company leaders are producing some of the most fascinating branding customers have ever seen. Brewers and vintners – or any food and beverage producer, really – looking for a bit of inspiration could do well to examine some of the latest movers and shakers within these spaces. Now might also be the perfect time to consider updating label software so it can support the creation of better designs. 

Agency statements and rulings demand accuracy in wine labeling

Before even delving into the intricacies of designs per se, it's important to remember the core purpose of labeling – providing accurate information to consumers that also appeals to them, to allow for a more informed purchase decision. Regulations are put in place precisely to prevent abuses or misuses of the power that labeling inherently provides. A number of recent industry incidents illustrate how important it is to be clear in the language used for the logos and copy on labels.

In March 2018, an industry group called the Wine Origins Alliance released the results of a survey regarding the accuracy of wine labels, stemming from American winemakers that marketed certain vintages of theirs by labeling them with foreign appellations, like "Port" or "Champagne." According to Wine Searchers, the data confirmed that 94 percent of wine drinkers in the U.S. – from a sample size of 800 people – favored the passage of legislation to specifically ban the use of deceptive labels. Additionally, 70 percent of the questionnaire's respondents stated that "allowing American producers to misuse foreign wine region names on their labels is deceptive to the American consumer." 

The recent ruling of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office regarding a new bottling from the Maryhill winery serves to illustrate a similar concern – although in this case, the issue is more a demand for clarity than suspicion of any deliberate attempt to mislead consumers. In a piece for Mondaq, patent attorney John L. Welch of the law firm Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks explained that Maryhill wanted to use the Italian phrase "Rosso Granato," which means "red garnet" in English, as the trademark for its latest red blend, a combination of Zinfandel and Petite Syrah vintages. However, the USPTO determined the phrase would not accurately inform consumers to a significant enough degree regarding the wine's actual contents to provide any value on the shelf. This would prove especially true for American consumers who had familiarity with the Italian language. 

"Factors like sustainability and eco-friendliness also have roles to play in labeling and branding."

Budweiser to tout energy efficiency on its labels

In an era of increasing consumer awareness regarding the impact of their commerce and consumption on the environment, indicators that products people buy are made with sustainability and energy efficiency in mind are more and more commonly seen on the branding that rolls off of companies' label printers. EcoWatch reported that Anheuser-Busch is one of the latest beer producers to embrace this practice, with notes regarding the macrobrewer's use of clean energy slated to appear on future cans of Budweiser. 

Despite maintaining its position among the most popular beers in the U.S., Budweiser and Bud Light have both seen reductions in market share over the last few years as wine, craft brews and spirits edge in on the territory once occupied almost exclusively by macrobrews. Thus, Anheuser-Busch's new marketing gambit intends to capture different portions of the alcoholic beverage purchasing market than the middle-American male demographic that has historically been so prized by makers of Budweiser, Miller and Coors.

That said, Anheuser-Busch has also genuinely committed to the implementation of clean energy, stating that by 2025, it will be purchasing $400 million in renewable electricity every year. Anheuser-Busch CEO Carlos Brito was quite bold in his announcement of this intention.

"Budweiser is going to be carrying the flag for renewable energy around the world," Brito said, according to the news provider.

"Producers must be mindful of how the strength of beer and wine is indicated on their labels."

Study illustrates concerns over "strength" labeling of beer and wine

The popularity of "session" beers – brews lower in alcohol content by volume but with the robust flavors associated with India pale ales and other strong varieties – has skyrocketed in recent years among those belonging to the craft beer audience. It ultimately constitutes a more microbrew-friendly take on the idea of light beer, though the caloric content of session lagers and ales isn't necessarily lower than their higher-alcohol counterparts. 

In any event, a recent study from the University of Cambridge in the U.K. identified potential concerns regarding the potential effects of these lower-strength beers on overall alcohol consumption. The researchers asked three groups of subjects to consume alcoholic beverages at three different levels of ABV: "super low," "low" and unlabeled average-strength 4.2 percent ABV beer and 12.9 percent ABV wine. Each group only received one type of drink, and both of the groups receiving "low" or "super low" beverages drank more than those who were given the average-ABV drinks. 

Professor Theresa Marteau, director of Cambridge's Behaviour and Health Research Unit and senior author of the study, clarified the catch-22 present in these results. 

"Labeling lower strength alcohol may sound like a good idea if it encourages people to switch drinks, but our study suggests it may paradoxically encourage people to drink more," Marteau told the journal Health Psychology, which published the study.

Marteau and her associates did clarify that the study had certain limitations, particularly that it took place in a controlled setting. As such, they could not conclusively identify that the effect they noted would engender the consumption of more alcohol overall on a regular basis. Nevertheless, it's reason enough to motivate producers to put the best available label finishing tools to work so that consumers are marketed to in a more responsible manner. 

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