Beverage giant Diageo will be the first company to market its wines as "low carbohydrate" beverages as permitted under a new ruling by the U.S. government. The company, which owns California wineries such as Beaulieu Vineyard and Sterling Vineyards, is placing information about calorie and carbohydrate content on its high-volume BV Coastal, Sterling Vintners Collection and Century Cellars brands.
"People have a lot of interest in carbohydrates, and wine has always been a low-carb beverage," said Ray Chadwick, president of Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines. "It's great that [the government] has issued guidance in how we can provide consumers with information. We think wine has a good story to tell."
Earlier this month, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) decided that alcohol-beverage producers will be allowed to list calorie and carbohydrate content on labels and in advertising -- as long as the statements are truthful and specific. The TTB issued the temporary ruling to provide guidance for companies seeking to market low-calorie and low-carbohydrate beers, spirits or wines to diet-conscious consumers. The bureau will be developing a formal policy on macronutritional labeling.
For now, if a producer wants to make a calorie or carbohydrate claim, the label must include a statement of average analysis: the number of calories and the grams of carbohydrates, protein and fat per serving size, which for wine is 5 fluid ounces. The term "low carbohydrate" may be used only for beverages that contain no more than 7 grams of carbohydrates per serving. But the TTB will not permit advertising that implies that low-carbohydrates drinks are a healthy part of a weight-loss plan.
While brewing companies have already been enthusiastically marketing low-carb or reduced-calorie beers, few wineries have jumped on the option. Many wineries don't want to deal with designing and getting approval for new labels or risk affecting wine's sophisticated image by using statements such as "30 percent fewer carbs than our other brand." But at a time when weight-loss plans such as the Atkins diet are popular, consumers who are counting their calories or carbohydrates could be attracted to wines that state they are low in both.
According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines published in 2000, a 5-ounce glass of wine contains, on average, about 100 calories, but that varies by the type of wine and the alcohol content. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also reports that a 5-ounce glass of wine has about 0.8 to 1.8 grams of carbohydrates.
Large, nationally distributed brands with mass appeal are most likely to benefit by appealing to customers looking for calorie and carbohydrate information. But companies such as E. & J. Gallo, Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, Robert Mondavi Corp. and Trinchero Family Estates (the owner of Sutter Home) said they had no immediate plans to put the information on their labels. Allied Domecq, which owns California brands such as Buena Vista and Clos du Bois, reported that it was only in the earliest of planning stages and was having some of its wines analyzed.
"Diageo intends to take a leadership position in terms of providing macronutritional information to consumers," said Chadwick. He noted that the company's research had shown that consumers want details about carbohydrates, protein, fat and serving size.
BV Coastal, Sterling Vintners Collection and the new Century Cellars brand all meet the TTB's new definition for "low-carb," according to Chadwick. "We started with those brands because they are high-volume brands with consumer appeal. As this progresses, we'll evaluate how we move forward."
Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines will soon begin producing bottle neckers and in-store displays with the calorie and carbohydrate information. For example, point-of-sale materials for the 2002 BV Coastal Estates Chardonnay will state that the wine contains 3 grams of carbohydrates, 124 calories, 0 grams of fat and less than 1 gram of protein per 5-ounce serving.
Diageo, which also owns beer and spirits brands, announced late last year that it would begin including more nutritional information on some of its products. Now it's also launching a print campaign advertising that several of its spirits brands -- Smirnoff vodka, Crown Royal, Johnnie Walker and Tanqueray gin -- have zero carbohydrates.
--Additional reporting by Nick Fauchald
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