Controversy over alcohol-free ads

With alcohol increasingly coming under fire from health groups, CUB has managed to inspire controversy advertising its alcohol-free product.

The ABInBev-owned brewer today announced a new advertising campaign in which it aims to get adults to switch from sugary soft drinks to its alcohol-free variant, Carlton Zero.

CUB CEO Peter Filipovic said the brewer launched Carlton Zero last August because beer lovers wanted more opportunities to enjoy beer responsibly.

“It’s giving people the freedom to enjoy their favourite drink in places where beer is not usually consumed,” Filipovic said.

“There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy Carlton Zero at lunchtime, at the office or if you are a designated driver.”

However, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education chief executive Michael Thorn has been quoted in the Herald Sun saying the marketing was effectively an effort to “groom the next generation of drinkers”.

“Pushing this beer brand into the health consumer market is deliberately deceptive, and is completely unacceptable and irresponsible,” Thorn said.

“This beer product is virtually indistinguishable from full-strength beer, with the same logos, branding and packaging.

“This is a veiled push to market alcohol brands to kids. Alcohol is an addictive, carcinogenic drug and is the major contributor to teenage deaths through intentional injury, homicide and suicide.”

FARE, which last week accused the CSIRO of “pro-alcohol bias” on the basis of a project that developed gluten-free barley, has become less of an alcohol educator than a militant anti-alcohol campaigner.

Central to the debate is whether a beer that contains no alcohol is actually achieving the aim of reducing alcohol consumption or a product designed to hook consumers – especially children – into a pattern of behaviour.

Or put another way, are alcohol-free beers providing a healthy consumer choice? Are they the Fads lolly cigarettes of the beer world?

Studies into cigarette lollies have found that a history of candy cigarette use was associated with an increased risk of current smoking. However, lollies were designed to appeal to children’s tastes while encouraging smoking behaviour.

Over the last few decades, breweries have faced the challenge of younger consumers shunning the bitterness in regular beer, which makes trial of a regularly-flavoured but de-alcoholised beer seem unlikely.

FARE provides no evidence of its charges, other than that the push by the major brewers into the alcohol-free space comes as Australians are drinking less alcohol than at any time in the last 50 years, with younger adults significantly less likely to consume alcohol.

Filipovic said the product was in response to changing consumer habits.

“We know Australians’ drinking habits are changing,” he said.

“We’re innovating to keep pace and the figures show consumers are loving it.”

The brewery said in a media release with bottle shop sales of non-alcoholic beer increasing 13-fold in the six months after Zero’s launch, compared to the same period a year earlier, though this growth is off a very small base.

The Carlton Zero commercial plays to consumers perceptions about the sugar content of soft drinks.

“Its enormous success proves drinkers have been crying out for a non-alcoholic beer that actually tastes like beer,” Filopvic said.

“Adults want alternatives to sugary soft drink and this campaign highlights that Carlton Zero has 10 times less sugar than regular soft drink.”

As always with health claims, CUB is highlighting its most advantageous figures. Carlton Zero has less than 0.05% abv and fewer than 2.3 grams of sugar per 375ml bottle, compared to Coca Cola’s 39.8 grams of sugar per 375ml serve.

However, in removing the alcohol brewers have to play with the finished product to maintain an acceptable flavour. The process significantly increases the level of carbohydrates over regular beers.

Nutritional panels show that Carlton Zero’s stablemates Carlton Dry and Carlton Draught contain 7.1 and 10.1 grams of carbohydrates respectively per 375 serve. Carlton Zero contains 26.3 grams, compared to Coca Cola’s 39.8 grams, though the source of carbohydrates in Coca-Cola is cane sugar, unlike Carlton Zero which is primarily malt derived.

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