Low-alcohol beer and wine promotions risk fuelling day-time drinking, a new study by Cambridge University suggests.
A review of the UK’s four largest supermarkets – Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – also found advertising strategies may be increasing people’s overall alcohol intake
A review of the retailers’ websites revealed the products’ low-alcohol content was played down in favour of ambiguous phrases such as “lunchtime treats”, “perfect for all occasions” and “to refresh thirsty sportsmen and women”.
Published in the journal BMC Public Health, the study found the messaging may encourage consumers to use low-strength beer and wine as a replacement for soft drinks, such as at lunch, rather than as a replacement for normal strength alcohol.
It also showed that marketing for weaker strength wines and beers was more likely to include text or images associated with health, information about calorie and carbohydrate content, and images of fruit.
The research involved 86 web pages marketing 41 lower strength wines and 48 web pages marketing 16 lower strength beers
These was defined as containing less than 8.5 per cent for wine and 2.8 per cent for beer.
“Our findings suggest that products containing less alcohol than regular strength wines and beers may be being marketed to replace soft drinks rather than products with higher alcohol content,” Dr Milica Vasiljevic, who took part in the research.
“Marketing lower strength alcohol wine and beer as being healthier than regular strength products and suitable for all occasions may paradoxically encourage greater alcohol consumption.”
Six years ago 34 leading wine and beer producers agreed to reduce the alcohol contents of many of their popular brands by 2015 under the Responsibility Deal.
The initiative was promoted by the then Health Secretary Andrew Lansley as a means of helping people drink more sensibly.
It followed rising demand for low-alcohol drinks.