Health pledges honoured

Drinks producers and retailers have made significant progress in their commitments to the government’s Responsibility Deal on public health, with more than 60% of labels already carrying health information and more and more companies signing up with pledges to cut units from the market.

The Portman Group has revealed that alcohol producers are on track to deliver their promise to provide health information on 80% of alcohol labels on UK shelves by the end of next year.

Research compiled by the group found more than 60% of drinks labels already feature unit content, the Chief Medical Officer’s sensible drinking guidelines and a warning about alcohol and pregnancy – and there are still 18 months until the deadline.

More companies are expected to confirm their pledges in the coming months, and the Portman Group noted that, over and above the three core elements, many companies are taking the opportunity to include a reference to the Drinkaware website and a “please drink responsibly” message on their labels. 

Chief executive Henry Ashworth, who is co-chair of the Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network, said: “It’s encouraging to see drinks producers making good progress on this pledge, but there is still some way to go to ensure 80% of products in UK stores are carrying this information by 2014.  

“With 18 months remaining I am confident we will get there, but now is the time for drinks producers who haven’t yet signed up to get on and do so. The Responsibility Deal is a good framework for the industry to focus its efforts in this area and provide consumers with important health information on labels.” 

Pledges from the industry to remove 1 billion units of alcohol per year from the market have recently been published on the Department of Health website.

Earlier this month Heineken confirmed it would cut 100 million units from the market each year by reducing Strongbow’s abv from 5.3% to 5% this year, while other producers, including AB Inbev, Carlsberg, Brand Phoenix and Accolade Wines, have also made pledges.

The big four supermarkets have signed up, with many saying they will lower alcohol levels in their own-label ranges and make commitments to promote lower-abv drinks. Discounter Aldi, Marks & Spencer and convenience chains including Spar and Nisa have also made promises.

Ashworth said: “This plan is still in its earliest stages, having been launched in March, so it is way too early to see where we are in terms of exact numbers. 

“What is clear is that this plan is an excellent foundation for collective action by producers, retailers and the on-trade to support consumers in making lower-alcohol choices if they choose. 

“It is a brilliant example of why the Responsibility Deal is such a win-win, because consumers will enjoy a greater choice of lower-alcohol products. 

“As a result more people will be able to keep within sensible drinking guidelines. I’m looking forward to seeing more companies signing up to this and more pledges coming through as we work towards the 2015 target.”

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced the commitment in March as part of the trade’s Responsibility Deal with the government. 

But the announcement was overshadowed because Prime Minister David Cameron chose the same moment to announce that minimum unit pricing would be introduced in England and Wales. 

The Responsibility Deal was signed between drinks trade leaders and the government in March 2011.