Wineries may press health claims after regulation lift

WASHINGTON: Wine makers will be talking more about the health benefits of wine consumption thanks to a recent federal regulatory ruling.

WASHINGTON: Wine makers will be talking more about the health benefits of wine consumption thanks to a recent federal regulatory ruling.

In early March, the Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau lifted a moratorium on use of health-related statements on wine, beer, and spirits labels. Effective June 1, labels can carry what the regulator calls directional statements, which point consumers to certain third-party sources that discuss the benefits of wine or alcohol consumption. Such statements can also be used in advertising and other communications.

The impact for beer and spirits is expected to be slight. "They tend to market their beverages without any reference to health," noted Jim Crandall, a public-information officer with the tax and trade bureau.

But wine makers have benefited in recent years from reports of research showing that moderate wine consumption can be beneficial to one's health.

"The word has gotten out" through news coverage, Crandall noted.

"The PR-savvy wineries are going to jump on that," said Jennifer English, founder of the Food & Wine Radio Network. "I don't know if it will convert anyone from a Diet Coke drinker to a wine drinker, but I suspect it will have an incremental benefit for wine consumption."

Harvey Posert, a longtime wine PR man who runs HPPR in St. Helena, CA, said, "Hopefully, the wineries will take the message and move forward with it. I'm advising my clients to go as far as they comfortably can in telling the moderate-use wine-health story."

Some expect the wine business to move slowly into discussing health, however. Said one winery PR person who asked not to be named, "If ever there were a chance something could come back to bite you, this is it.

It's almost better to let these studies do the work for you." Wineries don't want to be in a position of promising benefits they can't deliver, he added.

Gladys Horiuchi, communications manager for the San Francisco-based Wine Institute, noted that her organization had asked for the new labeling rules "for public-policy purposes, not PR and marketing. We've preserved our First Amendment right." She added that other government regulations prevent wineries from making therapeutic health claims.

The bureau's announcement garnered coverage from all the major news networks.

"We feel like the reporting is reaching more people than the label itself will," Horiuchi noted.

The first wineries to address the health issue may be organic producers, since they already tend to discuss matters of health, English said. They're also accustomed to alluding to the healthiness of their products without making specific claims.

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