British Journal of Health Psychology

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Impact of low alcohol verbal descriptors on perceived strength: An experimental study

Objectives

Low alcohol labels are a set of labels that carry descriptors such as ‘low’ or ‘lighter’ to denote alcohol content in beverages. There is growing interest from policymakers and producers in lower strength alcohol products. However, there is a lack of evidence on how the general population perceives verbal descriptors of strength. The present research examines consumers’ perceptions of strength (% ABV) and appeal of alcohol products using low or high alcohol verbal descriptors.

Design

A within‐subjects experimental study in which participants rated the strength and appeal of 18 terms denoting low (nine terms), high (eight terms) and regular (one term) strengths for either (1) wine or (2) beer according to drinking preference.

Methods

Thousand six hundred adults (796 wine and 804 beer drinkers) sampled from a nationally representative UK panel.

Results

Low, Lower, Light, Lighter, and Reduced formed a cluster and were rated as denoting lower strength products than Regular, but higher strength than the cluster with intensifiers consisting of Extra Low, Super Low, Extra Light, and Super Light. Similar clustering in perceived strength was observed amongst the high verbal descriptors. Regular was the most appealing strength descriptor, with the low and high verbal descriptors using intensifiers rated least appealing.

Conclusions

The perceived strength and appeal of alcohol products diminished the more the verbal descriptors implied a deviation from Regular. The implications of these findings are discussed in terms of policy implications for lower strength alcohol labelling and associated public health outcomes.

What is already known about this subject?

  • Current UK and EU legislation limits the number of low strength verbal descriptors and the associated alcohol by volume (ABV) to 1.2% ABV and lower.
  • There is growing interest from policymakers and producers to extend the range of lower strength alcohol products above the current cap of 1.2% ABV set out in national legislation.
  • There is a lack of evidence on how the general population perceives verbal descriptors of alcohol product strength (both low and high).

What does this study add?

  • Verbal descriptors of lower strength wine and beer form two clusters and effectively communicate reduced alcohol content.
  • Low, Lower, Light, Lighter, and Reduced were considered lower in strength than Regular (average % ABV).
  • Descriptors using intensifiers (Extra Low, Super Low, Extra Light, and Super Light) were considered lowest in strength.
  • Similar clustering in perceived strength was observed amongst the high verbal descriptors.
  • The appeal of alcohol products reduced the more the verbal descriptors implied a deviation from Regular.

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