Neelima Choahan 30/08/2018
Australian alcohol companies promote their products as ‘pure’, ‘fresh’, ‘natural’ and ‘sugar-free’ to encourage more health-conscious people to purchase them, according to new research.
Researchers say there should be greater regulation of alcohol marketing, including restricting the use of health-related claims and imagery.
Fancy some healthy beer? What about vodka with ‘purified water’ and some extra electrolytes thrown in for that glowing look?
Researchers at Curtin University say the alcohol industry is marketing their products as being ‘healthier’ to attract increasingly health-conscious consumers.
Published in Public Health Research and Practice, ‘Proliferation of ‘healthy’ alcohol products in Australia: Implications for policy’ examined interviews of alcohol industry executives in trade magazines in 2016 and 2017, and products released over the same period.
Co-author Julia Stafford, Executive Officer of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth, Curtin University, told newsGP the executives focused on different trends in the market, including health and wellbeing.
‘The executives seemed to be conscious that consumers were drinking less and that health-consciousness might have been part of why they were drinking less,’ Ms Stafford said.
‘We looked at different products that had been released over the same time period and noted that there were quite a few examples where there were products that had various health claims or advertising of products that used health imagery.’
Examples of products and campaigns addressing consumer health consciousness include:
- ‘Beer the Beautiful Truth’ [known as ‘Beer: It’s Beautiful’ from January 2018], an education campaign by beer producer Lion, promoting beer that is ‘99.9% sugar free’ and ‘preservative free’.
- Diageo, a large spirits manufacturer, released products in September 2016 aimed at ‘health, wellbeing and moderate drinking trends’. Smirnoff Pure is a 4.5% alcohol by volume, vodka premix range described as ‘Diageo’s first premix to combine vodka and natural ingredients, with no preservatives or artificial ingredients’.
Researchers say an alcohol industry publication reported the products ‘offer consumers several healthier alternatives from the category and tap into more moderate drinking occasions and demand for better-for-you products from millennials’.
Ms Stafford said alcohol companies promoted their ‘better-for-you’ products as supposedly healthier through advertising campaigns and product developments.
‘The industry has kind of turned around what they perceive might be a threat – consumer health consciousness,’ Ms Stafford said.
‘They have turned that around into an opportunity by developing products that appeal to more health-conscious consumers … natural flavours, botanical flavours … using pictures of people exercising in their advertising.
‘Consumers may believe that a product advertised as healthier may pose fewer health consequences or risks, but these products are not healthy and still carry all the risks associated with the alcohol component of the products, based on the volume of alcohol they contain and the associated calories.’
Researchers say the data shows a need for greater regulation of alcohol marketing, including restricting the use of health-related claims and imagery.
‘Because they are kind of giving a “health halo” to alcohol products that are not genuinely healthier, I think that adds to the rational for why we need big changes in the way alcohol marketing is regulated in Australia,’ Ms Stafford said.
‘There’s lots of reasons why the current self-regulatory system … doesn’t work.
‘They are free to use quite a lot of health claims, and health imagery in their promotion is just another part of the rational why we need to rethink how alcohol marketing is regulated in Australia.’
Ms Stafford said currently there are no requirements for good evidence-based health warning labelling on alcohol packaging.
‘I think it’s a gap,’ she said.
‘If the industry is able to promote its product as healthier and perhaps lead to the public having a misunderstanding about the risks associated with alcohol then [there’s need] for having effective, tested warning labels on packages.’