Health and addiction organisations have expressed concern at the decision by brewing giant AB InBev to launch its range of so-called ‘hard seltzers’ in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Hard seltzers are basically sparkling water to which alcohol and fruit flavour have been added. The brand - Mike's Hard Seltzer - is already on sale in the United States and the United Kingdom. The alcohol level is held at 5% ABV, or slightly more than the average pils, and the drink is sold in 33cl cans.
In Belgium, the law forbids the sale of any drink containing more than 0.5% alcohol to anyone under 16, and bans the sale of distilled alcohol to those aged 16-18. Publicity for the InBev drinks states the alcohol is “brewed”, which may make it available to the older group.
In any event, the Flemish Expertise Centre for Alcohol and other Drugs (VAD) has expressed concern at the arrival of the product on the market, and in particular the aggressive marketing behind the launch.
To begin with, the name ‘hard seltzer’ is aggressive enough. On the drinks’ British website, meanwhile, the company states, “It’s like alcoholic sparkling water, because that’s exactly what it is,” and “Don’t overthink it”.
“We want to be a company that brings all people together, not just beer people,” said Elise Dickinson, marketing manager for hard seltzers at AB InBev. “Hard seltzers are an integral part of that. The demand for the drinks is also starting to increase in Europe. AB InBev is well-placed to help retailers enter this booming market.”
The VAD sees the expansion into the European market in a less humanitarian light.
“This is a drink with which InBev is specifically looking for a new target group: young people under 18 who do not like beer,” said Katleen Peleman of VAD.
“The different fruit flavours also make it very enticing. This is yet another sign that the legislation gives the industry far too many opportunities to encourage young people from the age of 16 to drink alcohol.”