North Carolina breweries may soon be counting calories.
After all, other breweries are. Last week the Beer Institute, a national trade association for the brewing industry, announced the Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative. Through this new initiative, participating breweries would list calories, carbohydrates, fat, protein and alcohol by volume (ABV) on their labels. They will also make ingredients and other information available online.
Members of the Beer Institute that have agreed to comply with these new voluntary standards include brands like Anheuser-Busch, Craft Brew Alliance, HeinekenUSA, MillerCoors and North American Breweries. All told, these companies and their associated brands constitute more than 81 percent of beer sold in the United States (by volume).
It’s quite a unified front, so why do some brewers stand in opposition to the initiative?
“This will be a hardship on smaller craft brewers for little to no positive result,” wrote NoDa Brewing Co. co-founder Todd Ford in an email.
Go into the new NoDa facility in Charlotte, and you’ll find plenty of information about the beers scrawled in chalk: the style, the ABV, sometimes the ingredients or international bitterness units (IBU). But you won’t find calories, carbs or anything else spelled out in the new initiative.
Like most small breweries, NoDa Brewing must send its beers to an outside lab in order to get that information. They pay around $160 a sample with around five or six samples per test, and in exchange they receive an analysis that gives them ABV, IBU, SRM (a measurement of color) and calories. They would need to pay even more to have a lab do an FDA analysis, which would provide information on carbohydrates, protein and fat (of which there is none in most craft beers).
When you consider that NoDa Brewing would need around 12 samples to cover its year-round and seasonal portfolio, this kind of testing can add up quickly. Most small breweries lack the equipment or knowledge to do the tests on their own, said John Sheppard, a professor who oversees N.C. State University’s brewing research facility and its associated classes. Sheppard anticipates that most of these breweries would not pay for the services unless it provided an advantage in marketing or they were forced to do so.
John Marrino, founder of The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in Charlotte, thinks the initiatives would indeed provide an advantage when it comes to marketing, but not for his brewery or other small breweries. Marrino thinks the new initiative benefits the members of the Beer Institute because most of their beers are lower in calorie and carb counts anyway. He cautions, however, that consumers should not confuse nutrition and calorie counts.
But the keyword in this new initiative is “voluntary,” right? Yes, but perhaps not for long. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently finalized new labeling requirements that will go into effect in May of next year. These requirements state that calorie information must be listed on menus in chain restaurants and “similar retail food establishments.” This applies not just to certain alcoholic beverages, but a variety of foods as well.
For consumers, the new voluntary disclosure initiative and labeling requirements could provide additional information and more transparency. But for craft brewers with smaller budgets, it could mean spending thousands of dollars on testing that some of them consider unnecessary. Any volunteers?