Read Wine Australia's Low Alcohol Wine Guide for guidance on using light, low and no alcohol descriptors in Australia as well as some key export markets.
Demand for low and no alcoholic beverages has been experiencing large growth over recent years. This has seen an increasing number of grape products appear on retail shelves today with claims that they are ‘alcohol free’, ‘zero alcohol’, ‘de-alcoholised’ or even ‘light alcohol’. Many of these terms are defined by law and misuse of them may breach the Food Standards Code and mislead consumers.
It is important that beverage producers understand the different requirements that apply to the various ways in which light, low and no alcohol descriptors may be used.
None of the low alcohol descriptors are mandatory, however, if you choose to use one on your label it must comply with any definitions outlined below. Most importantly, a product containing alcohol must not, either expressly or by implication, suggest that the product is a non-alcoholic beverage.
Representations of light, low and no alcohol
In accordance with Standard 1.2.2 of the Food Standards Code, there is a general requirement that a food be labelled sufficiently to indicate the true nature of the food.
It follows that it would be permissible to describe a product as being ‘zero’, ‘no’, ‘low’, ‘reduced’, ‘de-alcoholised’ wine or wine products. However, there are some traps. Standard 2.7.1 of the Food Standards Code provides criteria for some of these claims including low and no alcohol.
This flow chart will help determine whether your claim meets the requirements.
Non-alcoholic, alcohol free, zero alcohol
Non-alcoholic, alcohol free, zero alcohol, 0% alcohol or indications of similar meaning are products that do not contain any alcohol. Alcohol-free grape products are generally produced without any fermentation and are often made up of just grape juice and water. Preservatives are often added to these products to ensure fermentation does not occur after bottling.
The Food Standards Code prohibits terms that expressly or by implication suggest that a product containing alcohol is a non-alcoholic beverage. There is no maximum alcohol content defined in the Code for using such terms. Accordingly, use of term which implies the product contains no alcohol, in the absence of mitigating information, may only be used on a product that contains no alcohol.
As test reports rarely quote zero you should be able to support a zero/no alcohol claim with a report quoting the alcohol as less than the limit of quantification (LOQ).
It should be highlighted that none of the terms listed above are defined. Rather it is the implication or overall impression given on the label that a product contains no alcohol. For example, the word ‘zero’ used in conjunction with other mitigating information such as ‘contains less than 0.5% alcohol’ would remove the implication that the product is a non-alcoholic beverage and would not fall foul of the Food Standards Code.
Beverages that contain more than 0.5% alcohol by volume cannot be described using terms that suggest the product is ‘non intoxicating’ or words of similar meaning.
Only beverages containing less than 1.15% alcohol by volume can be represented using the term ‘low alcohol’.
Given that the Food Standards Code expressly restricts claims related to low alcohol to this defined limit, it is recommended that any comparative claims for reduced or lighter alcohol wines avoid using the words ‘lower in alcohol’.
De-alcoholised wine is an oenological practice where fermented wine has had most of its alcohol removed prior to bottling. The term is not defined in the Food Standards Code but is generally understood to result in a product that contains small amounts of alcohol. These products are often labelled with statements such as:
- de-alcoholised wine
- less than 0.5% alc/vol
- less than 1.0% alc/vol
Products with less than 0.5% alcohol by volume are not required to declare the alcohol content on the label though many producers choose to voluntarily include this information.
The Food Standards Code does not regulate oenological practices as such but does authorise processing aids and additives. Accordingly, the processes used to de-alcoholise wine are not required to be approved under the Food Standards Code unless they incorporate additives or processing aids that are not permitted. If you use additives or processing aids that are not approved under the Wine Production Standard (Standard 4.5.1) you will not be able to label your product a ‘wine’ (see ‘Use of wine/wine product’ below).
The term ‘light’ is not defined in the Food Standards Code, however, claims such as ‘light/lite alcohol’ or ‘lighter in alcohol’ are considered comparative claims. Accordingly, Wine Australia recommends the label indicate the identity of the reference food and the difference between the amount of the claimed food and referenced food e.g. ‘lighter in alcohol wine – at least xx% lighter in alcohol compared to [2020 brand Shiraz].
References to the presence or absence of alcohol are not classified as nutritional content claims meaning claims of ‘light alcohol’ will not trigger the requirement to include a nutritional information panel (NIP).
‘Reduced alcohol’ is also considered a comparative claim. Refer to the information outlined above for ‘light alcohol’.
Use of 'wine'
Producers should keep in mind that ‘wine’ is defined in the Food Standards Code as a product of the complete or partial fermentation of fresh grapes, or a mixture of that product and products derived solely from grapes with a minimum alcohol content of 4.5% by volume.
Accordingly, a product with less than 4.5% alcohol could not be called a ‘wine’. Alternative descriptors that convey the true nature of the product would be necessary and here terms such has ‘light alcohol wine’, ‘reduced alcohol wine’ or ‘de-alcoholised wine’ (or the like) may be appropriate.
Use of 'wine product'
Any wine which has been formulated, processed, modified or mixed with other foods such as water, colours, flavours etc cannot be described as a ‘wine’. The distinction between using ‘wine’ and ‘wine product’ (with the desired adjective preceding it, such as ‘de-alcoholised’) are that the term ‘wine’ can only be used if:
- the product met the definition of wine prior to it being de-alcoholised, and
- only additives and processing aids permitted for wine have been used in the production of the product.
If the production of such product were to utilise an additive or processing aid not permitted for wine (such as glycerol or water post fermentation (other than to incorporate additives or processing aids)), it would have to be be labelled as a ‘wine product’ with added descriptors as needed, e.g. ‘de-alcoholised wine product’ (or the like).
The Food Standards Code requires that a ‘wine product’ is made of at least 70% of wine. ‘Wine product’ alone could be used if the wine component (which would have to be at least 70% by volume) were above 4.5% alcohol. Therefore, the minimum alcohol percentage for a wine product (in the absence of added descriptors) is 3.15% alcohol by volume.
A product can only be described as a ‘wine product’ if it contained at least 70% wine before being de-alcoholised1.
1 Note that the definitions set out for the purposes of labelling in the Food Standards Code vary to those used to determine taxation treatment. For example, products between 1.15% and 8% alc/volume will attract excise or customs duties (rather than being subject to Wine Equalisation Tax) depending on their classification as determined by the Australian Taxation Office.
Alcohol labelling statements
A product containing an alcohol content of more than 0.5% must include an alcohol statement. Products with an alcohol content falling between 0.5% and 1.15% must be labelled in words to the effect of ‘Contains not more than x% alcohol by volume’ (Standard 2.7.1-3(3)).
Note that for products containing less than 6.5% alcohol by volume, the alcohol statement must be correct to the nearest 0.5% alcohol by volume (Standard 2.7.1-3(4)).
For table wine and sparkling wine above 6.5% alcohol by volume, the alcohol percentage must be expressed and be correct to within 1.5% alcohol by volume (Standard 2.7.1-3(4)).
A standard drinks statement is required for any product containing over 0.5% alcohol by volume (Standard 2.7.1-4).
Exporting low alcohol wines
The information outlined above is based on the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code and is applicable to low alcohol wines intended for sale in Australia. Other countries apply different definitions for light, low and no alcohol wines. Refer to the Low Alcohol Wine Guide for details on our key export markets.
The export controls provided for under the Wine Australia Regulations 2018 (Regulations) apply to grape products as defined in the Wine Australia Act 2013 and Regulations and includes wine, brandy, grape spirit and products that include wine (such as ‘wine products’, ‘wine-based beverages’, low-alcohol wines and alcohol reduced wines). Non-alcoholic grape products that contain zero alcohol are not captured by the export controls.
Similarly, the blending rules apply to the grape products captured by the export controls. Note that exported ‘wine products’ are not permitted to claim a geographical indication (other than ‘Australia’) on their labels.
It is a condition of export that grape products comply with the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Nevertheless, section 14(3) of the Regulations specifies that Wine Australia may approve a product for export in circumstances where:
- it does not comply with the Food Standards Code, and
- it is satisfied that the way in which it does not comply will not compromise the reputation of Australian grape products.
In circumstances where an importing country’s laws apply different definitions for low and no alcohol descriptors, Wine Australia has issued a broad exemption that permits grape products exported from Australia to be represented using those descriptors provided the product meets the definitions under the importing country’s laws.
Refer to Wine Australia’s Licensing and Compliance Guide for further information on the export controls.