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Confusing labelling "discourages" innovation in low-alcohol sector
Published:  09 June, 2017

An independent organisation set up to promote sensible drinking is seeking changes to labelling rules on no- and low-alcohol drinks.

Club Soda, which styles itself as a movement to encourage “mindful drinking” says the rules cause confusion for consumers and discourage producers from launching products into the market.

Founders Laura Willoughby and Jussi Tolvi suspended their campaign for the general election but intend to take up the reins again with the appropriate minister once the new government has been formed.

“It makes it difficult for venues to stock products if they don’t know how to explain them to people,” said Willoughby.

“If you want to want to get Torres Natureo, which is a quite a good 0.5% abv wine stocked by Waitrose and Ocado, you can’t find it by searching low-alcohol. You have to type in the word ‘dealcoholised’, which is a really common word that I’m sure we all use all the time.

“Erdingder Alkoholfrei can be called that in the UK market, even though it’s 0.5% abv, because it’s labelled as that in Germany. But [East London brewer] Big Drop can’t call its [same strength] beers alcohol-free because they’re brewed in the UK.

“It’s a very weird space, full of lots of contradictions and idiotic bollocks basically.”

Teetotaller Willoughby and moderate drinker Tolvi formed Club Soda to help consumers who want to to cut out alcohol or rein in their consumption.

They say they are “not anti-alcohol” and want to work with producers and retailers to champion lower in alcohol products and quality soft drinks.

Club Soda is based in east London and received a small level of start-up funding from Bethnal Green Ventures, a “tech-for-good” investment organisation.

The rest of its finance has been from Willoughby and Tolvi’s own savings and bank lending, with no backing from either the drinks industry or the health lobby.

It draws working revenue from running online courses to help consumers make better choices about their alcohol intake.

It has also run mindful drinking pub crawls and has an online guide to outlets that sell a good range of low-alcohol products and good quality soft drinks.

“We’re not anti-alcohol and we’re more interested in a discussion about issues around sensible drinking than we are more legislation,” says Willoughby.

“One in five people in the UK are trying to change their drinking and one in five under-25s aren’t drinking at all. It’s not that they’re stopping drinking; they’re not even starting. “People are also cutting back on sugar and calories and that all impacts on what they drink.

“What we do allows people to set their own goals rather than have someone else set them, to track their own progress, get support from an online community, and take part in real world events.

“I used to go to the pub and get tap water and have a small bottle of elderflower cordial in my bag that I’d add. That pub made nothing out of me because all it could offer was Coke from a gun.

“If we give people permission to try something else they will make different choices.”

Willoughby and Tolvi previously worked in the public sector and the City of London respectively.

“Club Soda is now what we do full-time,” added Willoughby “Whether we get paid to do it full-time is another matter. But we’re doing something we enjoy and it’s exciting.”