Marketing Claims of Healthy Alcoholic Drinks Misleading: Study

September 12, 2021 Updated: September 12, 2021

Alcoholic drinks that claim to be healthier, more natural, “cleaner,” free of carbohydrates, and guilt might be misleading consumers, the Cancer Council has warned.

A study released on Sunday analysed the nutrient profile of 144 new alcohol products released between 2019 and 2020 which were promoted as better for you.

The alcohol, energy, carbohydrate, and sugar content of each product was recorded and assessed against existing classifications for alcohol strength and sugar and carbohydrate content.

The research found most of the products contained full strength alcohol and more than a third didn’t provide any nutritional information.

The chair of the Cancer Council Alcohol Working Group, Julia Stafford, said promoting alcohol as “healthy” or “better for you” was a misleading marketing tactic.

“We are seeing an emerging and very concerning trend of alcohol companies trying to create a health halo around products that are fundamentally unhealthy, by marketing them as lower in calories, sugar or carbohydrates, using ‘natural’ ingredients or avoiding the use of artificial additives or flavours,” Stafford said.

“Alcoholic products promoted as better for you rely on an illusion of healthiness, without addressing the ingredient of most concern to health, the alcohol content.”

She said overstating minor differences in sugar and kilojoule content was a distraction from the health risks of alcohol, which is a cause of seven types of cancer including bowel cancer and breast cancer and is linked to more than 200 diseases.

Stafford also warned that alcohol and advertising industries design their own marketing codes which are “too narrow and too weak to restrict claims about healthiness in alcohol ads.”

“We call on the Australian Government to introduce comprehensive, independent controls on alcohol marketing, which include restrictions on the use of health-related messaging,” she said.

Examples of marketing claims in question include: we want our products to tick the health boxes; the millennial focussed brand is health conscious and environmentally friendly; using the best 100% natural ingredients we can find; all natural ingredients, low sugar, gluten free; and zero sugar, zero carbs.

AAP has approached industry bodies Alcohol Beverages Australia and Retail Drinks Australia for comment.

By Gina Rushton