[Want the skinny on how to enjoy a beer and stay healthy? Check out our beer drinkers guide to good health.]
A new survey released by VicHealth shows that Australian beer drinkers continue to fall for the myth that low carb beers are a healthier choice than other varieties.
The report says the survey was undertaken because “nutritionists and alcohol experts have long suspected that low carb drinkers choose these products for supposed health benefits – primarily for weight management.”
The results contradict the official positions of many low carb beer producers which is that people drink these beers primarily for the flavour.
This research, the first of its kind, sought to discover the reason behind the low carb beer craze and ultimately, whether the ‘low carb’ label creates the false impression that it is a healthier choice.
It found that:
- More than two-thirds (71 per cent) said they believe low carb beer is healthier than full-strength beer, despite both types containing the same level of alcohol.
- More than a third (38 per cent) believe low carb beer is healthier than light beer.
- 44 per cent who drink low carb beer believe it is less fattening, despite no reliable evidence this is true.
- When asked which type of beer they would drink if they wanted to avoid weight gain, 87 per cent say they would choose low carb over mid-strength, full-strength or light beer.
- Four out of five of the main reasons given for drinking low carb related to health concerns (e.g. less bloating, less fattening, less kilojoules), rather than the enjoyment of the product (e.g. tastes better).
Despite these findings, the larger brewers who have invested heavily in this segment – a segment that the reports says are currently approaching nine per cent of the total beer market, maintain that they make no health claims about their products. What’s more, they refuse to even acknowledge the results of this survey.
Asked by Australian Brews News whether they had any response to the study and the claim made that brewers seek to mislead beer drinkers that low carb beers are a healthier option, a spokesperson for Lion Nathan National Foods adopted their standard marketing line:
“Lion Nathan has a wide range of beers to suit different lifestyles. These include full, mid and low strength beers as well as low carbohydrate options. Many Australians like to keep track of their carbohydrate intake as part of a balanced lifestyle and we provide them with a number of low carbohydrate options to choose from.”
We followed up this statement with the following questions:
- What does Lion Nathan think is the underlying reason that “Many Australians like to keep track of their carbohydrate intake as part of a balanced lifestyle”?
- Does Lion Nathan accept the results of the survey – ie that a significant percentage of Australian low carbohydrate beer drinkers mistakenly believe these beverages are a healthier choice than other varieties.
- If there is such a widespread misunderstanding of the nature of low carb beers, does Lion Nathan have any duty or obligation to educate their customers about this aspect of their products?
The spokesperson declined to comment further.
Asked the same initial question, a spokesperson for CUB also played a dead bat, trotting out the marketing line instead of answering the question:
Pure Blonde’s advertising focuses on its great, refreshing taste and the fact that it contains no artificial preservatives. Health benefits are not part of our messaging for this brand or any of the alcohol beverages in the CUB portfolio.
The vast majority of our drinkers choose Pure Blonde because they love the taste – this is the key driver for the purchase of any beer – whilst some are interested in a lower carbohydrate option. Consumers today are incredibly savvy and are able to research information about different products and trends quickly and easily and make decisions about what interests them.
At the end of the day, Pure Blonde is a full strength alcohol beverage and consumers need to make decisions about consumption that are right for them. Details about carbohydrates and kilojoules are clearly detailed on the back label along with the standard drinks information.
For many people, a lower alcohol option may be their preferred option and in our portfolio we offer a number of light and mid strength alcohol beers including Pure Blonde Naked. We believe our consumers are looking for choice and that’s what we aim to offer them.” CUB spokesperson
Pure Blonde is the number one low carb beer in Australia. It is in the top ten most popular beers in this country.
Australian Brews News asked the spokesperson to clarify this comment, asking:
In relation to the comment, “The vast majority of our drinkers choose Pure Blonde because they love the taste – this is the key driver for the purchase of any beer – whilst some are interested in a lower carbohydrate option”.
This statement would seem to refute the VicHealth study that found that “Four out of five of the main reasons given for drinking low carb related to health concerns rather than the enjoyment of the product”. Does CUB question or dispute the VicHealth findings?
The CUB spokesperson replied:
“The comment talks to our research and what we know about why consumers choose Pure Blonde.”
Undaunted, we tried again, asking “But do you accept the VicHealth findings?”
We received the reply:
“Our approach is to offer a viewpoint based on what we know about our brands from our own research. So unfortunately I can’t provide you with the additional comment you’re after.”
Their refusal to even acknowledge — publicly, at least — the VicHealth findings that beer drinkers choose these beers because of an erroneous belief in their healthiness is disingenuous and cynical.
Instead of acknowledging the perceptions, they play to them by making dog whistle calls about “health conscious people looking for options” while at the same time denying that putting “low carb” on a bottle is a claim that the beers are healthy.
The end result of such corporate cynicism is usually increased government regulation. As the reality that “low carb” is a health claim – even if just a perceived one – becomes more apparent, calls for government regulation of their labelling or advertising from the health lobby can’t be too far away. Fortunately, this is one area that is unlikely to hurt brewers on a quest for better beer, just those on a quest for bigger beer marketing.
As always, if you like any beer — even one with lower in carbs — for its flavour, drink up in good cheer. That is the mark of a good beer. But if you’re drinking it because you think it will allow you to drink buckets and not gain weight, well, in the immortal words of Darryl Kerrigan, “you’re dreamin’”.