Alcohol: Health, diet and nutritional claims

Feb 15th '22

Advertising rules state that “Marketing communications may give factual information about product contents, including comparisons, but must not make any health, fitness or weight-control claims.  …  The only permitted nutrition claims are “low-alcohol”, “reduced alcohol” and “reduced energy” and any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer”.


The starting point when assessing an ad under this rule will be whether a health or nutrition claim is being made. For example, words such as “light” or “lite” may in context clearly relate only to flavour or colour, and not imply a nutritional benefit from consuming the product. In these circumstances, rule 18.17 would likely not apply.


The Department of Health has issued guidance here regarding the various legal frameworks which underpin this rule (see in particular Section 3.3).


  • Health claims

Marketers are reminded that all health claims for alcoholic products are prohibited, whether or not the product is classed as low alcohol.


In 2021, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigated an ad for hard seltzer alcohol drinks. The ad, which made the claims “Whisp is a refreshing, low calorie, lightly alcoholic sparkling water – the perfect accomplice to a balanced lifestyle”, “MILK THISTLE Natural detox hero!” and “HEALTHIER CHOICE Low in sugar, calories and alcohol” was found to breach the above rule by making unacceptable health claims for an alcoholic drink  (Wild Drinks Group Ltd t/a Whisp Drinks, 7 July 2021).


Even the use of humour, or claims made in jest, may still lead advertisers to breach the Code. For example, beer company Brewdog produced an ad that stated “DUE TO ADVERTISING REGULATIONS WE CANNOT CLAIM THIS DRINK IS HEALTHY” and “Even though Clean & Press is only 90 calories per can, with no carbs or sugar and a little bit of alcohol, this is not a health drink. If you are looking for a health drink, do not drink Clean & Press”. Even though the ASA understood the ad was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, they concluded the overall intention of the advertiser was to communicate that the beverage was beneficial to overall good health or health-related well-being. (Brewdog plc, 7 July 2021).


  • Nutrition claims

The types of nutrition claim that can be made for an alcoholic product are very limited. Nutrition claims are only acceptable if, as above, they refer to low-alcohol levels, the reduction of the alcohol content, or the reduction of energy content. Nutrition claims which have the same meaning to the consumer as the permitted claims stated in rule 18.17, such as “light” (if referring to reduced alcohol content) or “reduced calories” may be acceptable, provided they comply with the relevant criteria for use.


Factual comparisons relating to permitted nutrition claims may be made either “internally”, between an advertiser’s products (for example, if the calorie content has been reduced or is different from another product in the range) or between the advertiser’s product and competitor products. In order not to mislead, the reduction or difference should be significant. In the case of a reduced energy claim, the energy value should be reduced by at least 30% and should be accompanied by a clear statement of the number of calories per unit of alcohol. If a comparison is made, the comparison must take into account a range of bards in the same category, and the difference in energy value must be stated.


The rules surrounding nutritional comparisons are complex – marketers are urged to familiarise themselves with the legislative landscape and Food: Comparative Claims guidance before making any claims.


  • Use of “only XX calories”, “low carb”, “zero sugar” etc.

Numerical statements of calorie or carbohydrate content should not be preceded by words such as “only”, as these are likely to be taken as making an unacceptable “low energy” claim.


In the 2021 Brewdog case above, the ASA found that the claims “only 90 calories per can” and “no carbs or sugar” were likely to breach rule 18.17 (Brewdog plc, 7 July 2021). Similarly, the ASA ruled the same year that “under 100 calories” was also an unacceptable nutrition claim (High Water, 7 July 2021) Again, whether or not these product meet the requirements of low energy claims would not be assessed because alcohol ads are prohibited from making such claims.


Claims such as “reduced sugar”, “half sugar”, “zero sugar”, or “reduced/low carbs” are also not acceptable, since they are not included in the list of permitted nutrition claims in rule 18.17.


  • Claims in names

If a trade mark or brand name on its own implies an impermissible nutrition claim for an alcoholic drink, the advertisement should include a related permissible nutrition claim as described above. Trade marks or brand names cannot be used if they may be construed as making a health claim or prohibited nutrition claim for an alcoholic drink.


In 2021, the ASA upheld against a company called The Lowcal Ltd because, though the company maintained it was a play-on-words for the term “local”, the ASA considered it would be understood to relate to “low calorie” instead, a prohibited nutrition claim (The Lowcal Ltd, 22 December 2021). See also Claims in product names.


See also Alcohol: GeneralAlcohol: ABV Alcohol StrengthAlcohol: Low Alcohol and Alcohol: Handling and Serving.


Source: Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP)


Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s Advice Online entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.


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