Here come nutrition labels for beer

We know this Bud's for you, but what exactly is in it for you? Soon you'll know. Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD), Molson Coors (TAP), Constellation Brands (STZ) and Heineken, which produce more than 80 percent of the beer sold in the U.S., today announced plans to begin providing consumers more nutritional information about the beers they sell.

According to a statement from the Beer Institute, an industry trade group, brewers will disclose calories, carbohydrates, alcohol content by volume (ABV) and portion size, both on labels affixed to bottles and cans and on websites that will be accessible via a QR code. Major beer makers, which have been trying to reverse declining U.S. consumption for years, are also providing dates when the beer is produced.

The Beer Institute's move, which it hopes will be finished by 2020, got kudos from the Center for Science and the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit that's often critical of the food industry.

"Alcohol can be a major source of calories for many Americans, and the absence of calorie labeling on cans and bottles has helped obscure that," said CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson in a press release.

The Wine Institute said in a statement that it "supports the voluntary inclusion of 'serving facts' information (serving size, servings per container, calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat) on alcohol beverages."

And the Distilled Spirits Council, whose members produce rum, champagne and liquor among other things, issued a statement applauding the Beer Institute's decision to include ABV information, given that "many beer brands sold today contain more than one standard drink," defined by U.S. Dietary Guidelines as 12 ounces of beer (5 percent ABV), 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (40 percent ABV) and 5 ounces of wine (12 percent ABV).

Craft Brewers, which aren't members of the Beer Institute, are taking a different approach to labeling because the larger trade association's strategy may not be feasible for smaller companies, some of which offer dozens of seasonal products annually, according to Paul Gatza, a spokesman for the Brewers Association, the craft brewery trade group.

"The Brewers Association has been working separately with the FDA and the USDA to develop a plan for beer styles (rather than specific individual brands) to be included in the USDA Nutrient Database," he wrote in an email. "We will continue to work with our members to encourage voluntary compliance with all existing government mandates regarding labeling."

Like other food companies, beer companies are under increasing pressure from consumers interested in leading healthier lifestyles. A recent Harris poll conducted for market researcher Nielsen found that 72 percent of beer drinkers say they think it's important to read nutritional labels when buying food or beverages.

Small brewers also are trying to gain an edge on competitors amid signs that the craft beer craze may be starting to wane. Better labeling may not be enough to convert a consumer into a beer drinker, however. According to data released earlier this year by the Distilled Spirits Council, its member companies gained market share in 2015 at beer's expense for the fifth straight year.

The U.S. wine industry also is booming. California wine sales hit a record $31.9 billion last year, according to the Wine Institute. Overall beer sales, meanwhile, have been on the decline. Trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights pegs 2015 U.S. adult per-capita beer consumption at 27.1 gallons, down a gallon since 2011.

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.