Grapes, patience, and passion. Water, barley, and yeast. Wine and spirits are traditional products anchored in our culture; everyone knows roughly how they are made. And what ultimately matters most to the consumer is the distinctive bouquet of their favourite claret or the unique peaty flavour of their dram of choice.
Yet today’s consumers want to know more about the products that they purchase. They want information to make the choices that they feel are right for them. For some, the list of ingredients will be important; others will care about how those ingredients were grown and where they were sourced from; others still will want to know how many calories are in a serving, or how much is too much.
The European wine and spirits sectors have joined forces to respond to this consumer demand and launched U-LABEL (www.u-label.com), a ground-breaking, unique e-label platform that will enable consumers across Europe to access information via QR code technology about the wine and spirits they purchase, in their own language.
The U-LABEL platform allows any wine or spirit company, small or large, to create e-labels that give consumers relevant, standardised and detailed product information. Once subscribed to the platform, any company can start creating e-labels for wine, aromatised wine or spirit products. After inserting the information on the product, the system can automatically translate the e-label into all 24 EU official languages and generates a unique QR code to be displayed on the bottle. So, by simply scanning a QR code on pack, consumers will have access to, among others, the full list of ingredients, nutrition information, responsible drinking guidelines and information about sustainability, in their own language.
Following a pilot phase with sixteen participating companies, we intend to make U-LABEL widely available as an affordable turnkey solution for companies to speed up their digitisation journey and provide consumers with the information they want, at the click of a button.
Critically, with this step, we are going well beyond current legal labelling obligations. The spirits industry already committed to providing energy information on label and ingredient information online in 2019, with a 50% implementation target by end 2021, which the sector is on track to meet. For the wine sector, the revised Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will, for the first time in the food sector, allow wines to communicate mandatory information through e-labels, but these rules will only come into effect in a couple of years.
We are doing this because we recognise that today more than ever consumers’ choices are deliberate, intentional choices, based on an increasingly broad set of considerations. We believe in empowering consumers to make educated, informed choices and want to facilitate this process. Taste and price will always matter most, but other factors are more important in purchasing decisions than they once were. And those factors, for example nutritional or sustainability considerations, are weighted differently by every consumer in every individual situation. So, it is incumbent on producers to provide the broad transparency needed to enable informed individual choices, without which consumer trust will wane.
The wine and spirits sectors have deep roots in Europe. Beyond their major socio-economic footprint, wine and spirits are part of the cultural fabric of our societies. These deep roots are a powerful source of legitimate pride. The pride that we have in our products, the people that make them, and the places they come from is conducive to transparency: every year we welcome thousands of consumers to visit the places where we make our products, to show them how our products are made. In line with this, with U-LABEL, we create full transparency on what they contain.
Transparency today means more than it ever has, and much more than a physical product label can convey. E-labelling gives consumers those extra layers of information they are interested in and allows them to obtain the specific information they are seeking to complement on-pack information in an accessible and meaningful way.
U-LABEL will ensure that this information is not only easily available but also reliable and trustworthy. We plan to broaden the reach of our ground-breaking initiative with a data partnership with GS1, the international standards organisation that manages the barcode on consumer goods. We look forward to building a future in which a much wider range of standardised, reliable product information is easily available to consumers online across different product categories. And we look forward to working with the European Institutions and relevant stakeholders to ensure that the EU supports and advances these innovations, which a forward-looking, inclusive digital consumer agenda demands.
Ignacio Sánchez Recarte, Secretary General of CEEV, the European wine sector organisation
Ulrich Adam, Director General of SpiritsEurope