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Update: Nutrition labels and what the wine business doesn’t understand

Last month’s news that the federal government would allow nutrition labels on wine was mostly ignored by the wine business. Hardly anyone wrote about it, and the emails that I got said wine drinkers weren’t interested in nutrition labels and I would know this if I paid any attention to the real world.

Actually, the reverse is true. Wine drinkers are interested. The problem is that too many in the wine business don’t understand who their customers are or want they want. More, after the jump:

The May 29 announcement, which allows wine, beer, and spirits producers to add the labels voluntarily, was not aimed at wine. As the always insightful Tim McNally wrote, beer and spirits “are not necessarily anxious to disclose caloric information. Some craft beers are most opposed because they have high hops and grain content, which is highly caloric. … [T]he brewery feels you won’t step up and just guzzle down a few (more) bottles, knowing you are knocking on the door of 1,500 calories just to slake your thirst.”

The labels will almost certainly be used by the biggest beer and spirits companies to reinforce their hold on the light and diet categories, as well as to point out that one serving of vodka has half the calories of one serving of beer or wine (and God knows how many times the profitability).

But that doesn’t mean the labels aren’t important to wine. Eric Asimov of the New York Times has written that wine drinkers “pay little attention to wine’s added ingredients, even as we have become hyper-conscious about what we eat.”

And, in one respect, he is correct – that’s a perfect description of the aging Baby Boomers who so many still see as wine’s primary demographic. But they aren’t, and haven’t been for a while. Millennials (ages 21-36) already drink more wine than the Boomers, and that doesn’t include the 8 million who aren’t old enough to drink yet.

And what’s one of the most common sights in a grocery store aisle? A young woman checking the label on a can of soup for calories and sodium and fat content. Why does anyone in the wine business think that information wouldn’t help sell wine? And why do so many consider it an affront to be asked to include it?

McNally writes that nutrition labels won’t matter in wine because wine doesn’t have the mix of ingredients that beer and some spirits do – mostly just grapes, yeast and sulfites, without fat or sodium. What he misses, though, is that the young woman in the grocery store aisle doesn’t know that (and, given the wine business’ woeful efforts at education, never will).

A nutrition label will tell her that. Which means, just maybe, that the next time she is choosing between an energy drink, flavored water — or even a soft drink — and a bottle of wine, she’ll discover that the wine has no more calories and less sodium. How can that not be good for wine?

For more on wine nutrition labels:
Update: Wine nutrition labels
Nutrition facts: Coming to a wine bottle near you
Diet wine, and why we’re stuck with it

4 Responses to Update: Nutrition labels and what the wine business doesn’t understand

  1. first.vine@verizon.net' Tom says:

    I don’t doubt that consumers want to know how many calories are in their wines. Wine and other alcohol are usually the first thing people cut out when they’re trying to lose weight. My hope is once they see that a glass of wine has the same amount of calories as a tablespoon of olive oil, perhaps they’ll stop slinging the EVOO around like it’s the elixir of life and maybe have a glass of wine with dinner instead.

  2. nywineexaminer@gmail.com' Lisa Carley says:

    Excellent point! The industry should consider them a tool to promote sales as opposed to an anchor.

  3. Jeff Siegel says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Lisa. I just wish more wine people would be that forward thinking.
    And Tom makes a good point — the olive oil people and their allies in the TV chef business have convinced consumers that olive oil is as as healthy as it gets, and it’s still a high calorie fat. Why can’t wine get some of that love?

  4. Jeff,
    I think more wineries may be willing to post the information if they didn’t have to use the giant panel and take up so much bottle space. At least the wineries who can afford to test all of their wine for nutritional content. I agree with your grocery store premise, but I would argue that the wineries who really do not want to put the information on the label are not selling in a grocery store anyway.

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