My answer is “good…very good!”. Here’s why.
Based on what I observed happen to the food and beverage industries following passage of the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), my prognosis is that ingredient labeling for beer will be one of the best things that will happen to the craft beer industry (caveat emptor: I am not a brewer…only a supplier of goods and services to brewers). Here is the why thereof and what to do about it…
We know how this story came to pass. Early this past June, North Carolina citizen-activist blogger Vani Hari, “The Food Babe”, launched an on-line petition demanding that the brewing industry fully disclose the ingredient contents of its products on its labels. Shortly thereafter, the consumer-activist Center for Science in the Public Interest jumped aboard. By the end of the month, Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors had fully capitulated to her demands. This, folks, signaled the moment the regulatory train left the station: be assured that mandatory ingredient labeling is now moving clickety-clack toward full-steam regulation and implementation.
When the NLEA passed in 1990, there arose a loud wailing and tearing of hair by food and beverage processors because of the added costs of analyzing product nutrient contents, product reformulations, QA/QC compliance and nutritional label redesigns. At the time, it was posited that consumers really wouldn’t care about all that added information, anyway, and that the added costs would only serve to discourage new product launches.
They were wrong. Implementation of the NLEA unleashed a boom of creativity and new product development that broke new profitability barriers for the food and beverage industries – a trend that continues to this day. I also could not help but notice that the newly reformulated products entered the market at markedly higher prices. You see, consumers really did care about what is in their food and drink! And once companies found that these consumers actively read nutrition statements and ingredient labels and were willing to pay premiums for products that disclosed more information, the rush was on to give them what they wanted. Over the next two decades, consumers paid ever-increasing premiums for product that claimed natural, organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, “ancient” and other ingredient-based claims…as long as the products were properly validated and came with a story. Does anyone today seriously believe that most Western consumers really don’t care about ingredient labels?
I am convinced that full-scale ingredient disclosures by the brewing industry will set-up another boom time in premium craft beers and allow brewers new latitude to experiment with new, healthy and value-added ingredients. My much-smarter-than-me Wisconsin born-and-bred spouse assures me that beer is Nature’s ultimate health food and, as we know, craft beer saved the world. Beer ingredient labeling will help consumers understand the how and why.
For brewers that adhere to German Reinheitsgebot German Beer Purity Law standards, mandatory ingredient labeling probably won’t be a big deal. For the craft brewing industry, it can be a very big deal (for example, do you prefer to use “unknown flavorant” or “natural citrus peel” in your craft beer?).
First, the craft brewing industry is an artisan industry that justifiably prides itself on innovation based on secret processes and ingredients. Second, craft brewers must (or should) now develop products with an eye to eventual full disclosure. Does any brewer want to get caught with ingredient statements that leave them open and instant public critique? As the Food Babe demonstrated, today’s internet-wired consumers react to news…good, bad, true or false…fast, very fast!
It is now up to the craft brewing industry to insert itself into the process early so that it can help decide the terms under which full ingredient disclosure will come to be. Better that than, alternately, leaving such decisions to the tender mercies of consumer activists and the Treasure Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
But, I propose again…this is all good news. As the food and beverage industries’ experience with NLEA demonstrated, providing more information to consumers only serves to increase the premium that they are willing to pay in exchange for the verifiable qualities and benefits of the products obtained. And, for now, the craft brewing industry has plenty of time to prepare itself to fully exploit the new opportunities to come.
And, oh yeah, about ingredient label designs: don’t panic. There is no need to ruin the artistry of a craft beer label. Instead, pick up a nutrition bar and see how creatively the nutrition bar industry dealt with ingredient labeling requirements. The craft beer industry is one of the most creative industries we have. I have no doubt that good, artistic solutions will be found.
Agree or disagree? Please let me know.