Following recent EU Common Agricultural Policy legislation, from 2023 at the latest, wines and spirits will lose their exemption from the requirement to inform consumers about the ingredients that have gone into the product – apart from SO2 – and its nutritional value.
Parts of the drinks industry have – unconvincingly, given what food manufacturers manage – argued that there is no space on back labels or that lists would be aesthetically unacceptable. In response, the new rules state the information must be provided "on the label or by electronic means".
Addressing the second of these options, the Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins (CEEV) and SpiritsEurope have joined forces to launch a voluntary QR Code-based initiative called the U-Label that producers can adopt in the period before the new rules become mandatory.
Consumers who scan the QR Code will be taken to a platform where they will find the legally-required information in their own language. In addition to lists of ingredients, calories and sugar content, producers can also use the U-Label to provide details of their sustainability efforts, drawing attention to the positive sides of their product.
Explaining the initiative, Jean-Marie Barillère, President of CEEV, says "Today's consumers expect more transparency on the products they consume, and digital labelling can respond to this demand by boosting the information that companies share with their consumers, without changing the appearance of the packaging".
So far, 16 companies and brands such as Campo Viejo, Masi Agricola, Taittinger as well as Absolut Vodka and Rémy Cointreau have signed up the initiative. The platform is open to every company, the initiators emphasise. The first products equipped with the QR code have already been launched, including Sogrape’s Mateus Rosé, a Ramon Bilbao Verdejo 2020 and Zonin's Pinot Grigio DOC.
Whilst coming as a welcome increase in openness by drinks companies, the U-Label does raise one or two questions. What will happen to labels that already have QR-Codes? Will consumers be as ready to scan QR codes as to read printed lists, as they are used to doing on the packaging of food products?