How low can? you go?

21 January, 2011

Alcohol-free clearly says what it is on the tin – or rather, bottle. Consumers have a pretty good understanding of which wines are free from alcohol, and there is also a growing awareness that the quality of these brands is much higher than it once was.

But “low alcohol” – what is that all about? According to the UK Food Labelling regulations, low-alcohol wines are defined as alcoholic products of not more than 1.2% abv. Therefore, anything with a higher alcoholic content is not permitted to bear health claims that they are low-alcohol.

This in itself is causing confusion among consumers, say producers.

On the one hand, the government has been investing heavily in consumer-facing campaigns to make people think about their alcohol unit consumption, and this message is starting to get through.

But on the other, notes Alison Flemming MW, Reh Kendermann’s export sales director: “There is still a widespread misunder­ standing among consumers who believe the higher the abv content, the better a wine must be.”?Clare Griffiths, vice-president of consumer marketing for Constellation Europe, agrees there is work to be done in tackling theperception that lower-alcohol wines are lower in quality.

“Constellation works to tackle this misconception by ensuring any lower-alcohol product it develops must deliver on taste first and foremost, and then supporting this with the obvious benefits of a lower-abv product,” she says.

Lighter-style drinksWine importer Continental Wine & Food says there is plenty of evidence from recent research of a demand for wines with a lower-alcohol content. “This is being driven largely by younger consumers who are looking for lighter style drinks in line with alcohol health promotion messages,” says its marketing manager Vicky Lee.

To tap into this, CWF brought out a lower-alcohol range, Silver Bay Point with a red, white and rosé variant at 8% abv. Strong sales have led to the recent launch of a sparkling version to add to the range, according to Lee.

Producer Brown Brothers has also developed a range of wines with a lower abv. The Australian range includes Cienna, which has a 5% abv and Moscato, with a 5.5% abv.

“At Brown Brothers we stop the fermentation process by chilling earlier on which leads to a fruitier taste profile,” says European sales manager Gail Gilbert.

Grapes such as Moscato, which tend to produce slightly sweeter wines that are naturally lower in alcohol, are enjoying resurgence, according to Constellation’s Griffiths. To capitalise on this, the company recently launched Banrock Station Moscato 2009 and Pink Moscato 2009, at 5.5% abv.

Reduced caloriesIn many cases low-alcohol also means low-calorie, but not all consumers who want a lower-alcohol drink are also seeking the benefits of calorie reduction.

In fact, some may be put off by a drink that is actively positioned as a diet alternative.

But Constellation’s Echo Falls Spritz uses the lower-calorie content as an additional selling point for its target female consumers.

The company launched Spritz – which combines wine and sparkling water in a single-serve bottle at 4% abv – to tap into the growing interest in lighter styles of wines.

“Echo Falls Spritz Pinot Grigio, which launched last year, simultaneously taps into the continuing trend for Pinot Grigio and its crisp, refreshing, lighter-drinking style,” says Griffiths.

Calories are also an important consideration for Eisberg drinkers, according to Fran Draper, the brand manager at Chalié Richards.

“A 12.5cl glass of Eisberg has just under 30 calories compared with standard wines that tip the scale at 85 calories per 12.5cl glass,” she says.

Sales for the alcohol-free brand are up by 13% in the off-trade over the past two years, according to Chalié Richards.

“This is primarily due to repackaging the product in a clear Bordeaux bottle, improvements to the taste, and the addition of a new Cabernet Sauvignon to the existing Chardonnay, Riesling and Rosé,” says Draper.

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