The Beginners Guide to Labeling Requirements for Alcoholic Beverages

Sumedha Gurav

Explaining difficult concepts through simple words.
June 16, 2021

Reports say that alcohol consumption is on the rise during the ongoing pandemic. It's essential for alcohol brands to get every part of the label just right. Here's a quick read to begin with!

The fancy bottle of wine, your favorite whisky, or the six-pack beer you buy all the time – all of them have one thing in common. 

All alcoholic products have strictly regulated labels. 

While to most people,  such labels may not seem like a big deal, the information on  alcohol labeling is crucial for the sale of the product in different regions. Government agencies across different regions have strict regulations when it comes to labels. Violations may lead to penalties as high as $21,000 in the US.

In the US, the FDA and the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulate the labels for alcoholic beverages. In Australia and New Zealand, there is the Australia-New Zealand Food Standards Code Part 2.7, while in India, there is FSSAI. Throughout Europe, the European Union Regulations have a set of standard rules, such as, Canada has Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Often, alcoholic beverages are exported to different regions, and it is crucial to abide by those rules and avoid labeling errors before the product launch.

5 Common Alcohol Labeling Requirements

Labeling requirements depend strictly on the target region. For instance, certain alcoholic products are not regulated by the TTB in the US. The TTB has extensive information about labeling different types of beverages. This  holds for other regions as well. Here is a brief primer on what goes on the labels of alcoholic drinks in general.

1. Geographic Origin

Geographical origin is not just required by the regulatory bodies. It is something that customers also check on  alcohol labeling. A wine connoisseur may simply ignore a bottle of wine that does not have a country of origin. The country of origin often describes characteristic qualities of the product, making it a crucial element of the label. For example, labels on the red wine St Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon clearly mention that they are from Australia. 

2. Ingredients

Alcoholic beverages may or may not need to disclose their ingredients. For example, FDR in Canada does not need standard alcoholic beverages such as whisky, wine, or beer to declare their ingredients. Similarly, TTB in the US also does not mandate a strict ingredients list on alcohol labeling. However, in the case of unstandardized alcoholic drinks, the brand needs to disclose all the ingredients. They also need to mention the presence of allergens in the ingredients. 

3. Alcohol Percentage

Almost all regulatory bodies make it mandatory to provide the alcohol percentage on the bottle. This information provides a clear distinction between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

In the US, any drink that has 14% or higher alcohol content by volume must have a numeric statement. For beverages that have 7 to 14% alcohol may or may not do that. However, brands should label them as “table wine” or “light wine.”

According to the FDR, any beverage that contains more than 1.1% alcohol by volume should declare it on the label.

4. Additives

Brands need to disclose the processing method as well as the presence of any additives in the beverage. Often, brands use artificial colorants in their beverages. Therefore, they should state that information on the label. Brands should also disclose if artificial sweeteners are used and if additional Sulfites are added or not.

Different classes of beverages have different requirements in this context. Here are a few examples.

a. Beers

Beers need to have FD&C Yellow #5 disclosure, Saccharin, Aspartame, and Sulfite Declaration. Excess consumption of these chemicals is harmful for health. For instance, Aspartame has known neurotoxic effects. Saccharin is also a known carcinogenic. Beers should also include a health warning statement stating that saccharin may cause cancer and aspartame is known to cause headaches.

b. Wine

alcohol labeling requirements
Image: otrasteel.blogspot.com

Wine bottles should mention the percentage of foreign wine present. They should also state if Cochineal extract, Carmine, or FD&C Yellow #5 is being used as a colorant or not. Furthermore, wines should also declare the number of sulfites added if they have ten or more parts per million sulfur dioxide.

c. Distilled Spirits & Liquors

Here are the requirements for Distilled Spirits & Liquors.

5. Health Warning Statement

5 Common Labeling Errors on Alcohol Beverage Labels

beverage alcohol labeling requirements
Image: otrasteel.blogspot.com

Alcoholic beverages are often exported and keeping up with the changing regulations of another country can be difficult. The TTB has a program called Certificate of Label Approval (COLA). COLA involves an online certification process. The most common errors in labeling that leads to rejection of COLA applications include:

1. Readability

Often images are highly compressed and they are of such low quality that the text on the labeling does not stay legible. Since labels contain fine prints, it is essential to provide a high-quality and low-compression image.

2. Dimensions & Colors

Labels are designed for printing and are often done using CMYK color space. These are not compatible with online applications as they need RGB color space images. Furthermore, using the wrong dimensions may lead to application rejection.

3. Accurate Information

Trade name in the bottler’s statement on labels does not match the application. This is a common issue where the brands make typos in the labels or the forms.

4. Government Warnings

Health warning statements often have punctuation errors or statements written differently. One of the most common labeling errors in the US is with the health warning statement. The error often happens with punctuation marks, capitalization, or inclusion of health warning statements from a different region.

5. Matching Data

Alcohol content and vintage date on labels do not match application. The design aesthetics do not accommodate the labeling requirements causing such issues.

labelling requirements for alcoholic beverages

How to Reduce Labeling Errors for Alcoholic Beverages

Most labeling errors can be solved by having proper collaboration during the label development. One can address the issues of highly compressed images, or errors with color space, and dimensions as mentioned in points 1 and 2 by communicating their requirements clearly with the design team.

Brands can address issues related to discrepancy in names, or other text as in points 3, 4, and 5 with proper collaborative proofing tools. Collaborative proofing allows multiple stakeholders, such as the legal team, marketing team, and quality control to check the artwork for errors and directly annotate on the artwork. 

Furthermore, regulations change all the time. Brands need to update their labels according to these changes. 

For example, FSSAI updated its regulations in 2018. They again drafted a new set of regulations in 2020. Brands must keep up with these regulations, release products with updated labeling or face consequences. .

To speed up labeling for alcoholic beverages, onboard teams to an artwork management platform that provides optimized workflows and allows faster approvals. They also come with collaborative tools that reduce labeling errors.

What do you think are the major challenges for creating alcohol labeling? Let us know in the comments below.

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