Wednesday, December 17, 2003
How to Drink Alcohol on Diet
The Wall Street Journal reports a new marketing trend amongst the makers of imbibing spirits: Pitching their wares to Dieters.
If Beer bellies and flabby buns are the first thing that come to mind when you think about boozin', well then you are the exact consumer the alcohol industry is gunning for.
In a world where it's OK for dieters to load up on bacon and hamburgers, what's so bad about a cocktail? Not much at all, according to the liquor industry. In an effort to cash in on the popularity of trendy low-carb diets like Atkins, makers of vodka, whiskey, and other hard liquors are starting to pitch their products as low-carb and diet-friendly, following the success of a low-carbohydrate campaign this year by Michelob Ultra beer.
In fact, looks can be deceiving and there can be some surprisingly low-carb and low-calorie drinks behind the bar. Guinness, for instance, with its thick consistency and chocolate-cake color, is likely to be one of the first beers carb-conscious drinkers would cut out. In fact, it has only 10 grams of carbs and 125 calories per 12 ounces -- fewer carbs than Budweiser, Coors and Corona. (The reason is, Guinness contains less alcohol.) Other products that look more virtuous, such as the clear-colored malt beverage Smirnoff Ice, are carb-laden. A 12 oz. serving of the trendy brew has 32 grams of carbs and 228 calories, or about the same as a baked apple pie from McDonald's. Same for drinkers of non-alcoholic beers, which can carry more than 14 grams of carbs per 12 ounces.
Of course, this has led consumer advocacy groups to "urge liquor companies to put more nutritional information on their packaging." Their claim? Current labeling rules are "haphazard and hard to decipher." The Center for Science in the Public Interest as well as the National Consumers League have petitioned the federal government to require "uniform labeling for liquor much like what's already required on food-product packaging."
The proposed labels would include information on alcohol content, serving sizes, calories and ingredients. Currently, the government has widely varying rules for different products -- low-carb and light beer must list calorie content, for instance, but wine, spirits and regular beers don't have to:
Nutritional label for alcoholic beverages as proposed by consumer advocates.
This may be the next big issue of consumer disclosure laws. (I always say, err on the side of more disclosure):
"People are unaware of the calories and ingredients, and don't know how to compare between types of beverages," said George Hacker of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Brewers and distillers including Anheuser-Busch and Diageo said they are still evaluating the proposal.
The low-carb, high-protein dieting trend should be terrific news for liquor makers: Rum, vodka, gin, whisky and tequila contain no carbs or fat at all, and never have. Still, 63% of consumers incorrectly believe wine and beer are lower in carbs than spirits, according to a study by Ipsos Public Affairs.
All of this has triggered a wave of new marketing campaigns. Diageo, which makes Captain Morgan Original Spiced rum and Johnnie Walker, is now urging bartenders to promote holiday-themed drinks such as a Johnnie Walker Red Label and Ginger, a mix of scotch and diet ginger ale that clocks in at 96 calories, about the same as three rice cakes.
Allied Domecq, which makes Kahlua, is also targeting barkeepers and encouraging them to, for example, offer "skinny" White Russians made with skim milk instead of regular milk. It's trying to stir up buzz by sponsoring parties at the offices of Hollywood producers and publicists, as well as some hip hair salons. The drink has roughly half the calories (229) and two-thirds the carbs (18) of a normal White Russian.
Phillips Distilling recently launched a low-carb campaign for its UV vodka and is telling distributors to cross-market it with products like Crystal Light sugar-free lemonade. And Bacardi plans to dust off some of its old advertising from dieting crazes of yore. An 1984 print ad, for example, asks which has more calories: five ounces of white wine, or a five-ounce Bacardi and diet Coke. (Answer: The rum drink, 66 calories, wine, 121.)
See WHAT'S IN YOUR DRINK?
Chart depicting total carbohydrates, calories and fat in various types of alcohol (pdf)
Liquor Industry's New Pitch: How to Drink Alcohol on Diet
Groups Seek Nutrition Labels As Distillers Go Low Carb;
The Surprise About Guinness
By CHRISTOPHER LAWTON
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, December 17, 2003
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