Mandatory caffeine content warning on beverage packs soon

Written by Soma Das | Lalitha Srinivasan | New Delhi/Mumbai | Updated: Jun 20 2012, 05:47am hrs
Reigning cola brands Coke, Thums Up and Pepsi and energy drinks such as Red Bull are set to lose a bit of their fizz with the government planning to make it mandatory for caffeinated beverages to flash a statutory warning stating they are not the the right thing for certain sections of the population.

The Union health ministry may soon ask manufacturers of caffeinated drinks to carry the warning Not recommended for children, pregnant or lactating women, persons sensitive to caffeine on the principal display panel of their products in a typeface sufficiently large and bold so that the message doesnt go unnoticed.

These products will also need to display the caffeine content on the label of their primary packaging (bottles and cans). The development is significant since even more regulated markets such as the US and UK have not yet mandated such labeling.

These recommendations are part of the standards for caffeinated drinks decided upon by the members of food authority, the apex group responsible for regulation of food and beverages in the country. A technical expert committee on the matter has recommended these measures, which have been cleared by the food authority. The standards are ready and would be put up for public comments soon, before the ministry notifies it, said an official who was present at the meeting where the decision was taken.

Currently, the standard labelling on colas says contains caffeine while diet versions of both Coke and Pepsi which use artificial sweeteners mention not recommended for children on their packs.

The US, the biggest market for carbonated cola beverages and caffeinated energy drinks, only requires these drinks to include caffeine in the list of ingredients on the pack. Some American companies have faced flak for using very high quantities of caffeine in food products. Health Canada, however, issued labelling guidelines for caffeinated products in 2010, demanding the display of caffeine levels on packaging.

When contacted, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi declined to offer their comments on the proposal. While a Coca-Cola India spokesperson said it was an industry issue and they wouldnt comment on it, a PepsiCo India spokesperson said they do not have adequate information on the matter to offer comments.

However, brand consultants, advertising agencies and media buyers have welcomed the move as it would help consumers make an informed choice. Some of them, though, feel it may adversely impact the cola brands as it would automatically translate into association with bad health.

Harish Bijoor, CEO of Harish BijoorInc, a consulting firm that specialises in brand and business strategy said: I think its a unique and a good move that will ensure that the target segment which includes children, young as well as expectant mothers will know what to choose and what to avoid. Of course, this move will impact beverages companies, but human beings are far more important.

Some others differ, saying advisories and warnings have not been effective in curbing smoking.

T Gangadhar, managing director, MEC, founding partner in Group M, part of the WPP Group Plc said: I think it is a good thing to reveal the contents of any caffeinated beverage. However, I do not believe it will affect consumption of such beverages in India. Warnings on smoking have not stopped people from smoking; so why should warning labels stop consumers from drinking beverages which contain caffeine

Cola majors have been touchy about putting health warnings in the past. Earlier this year, when California brought in a new law which required a cancer warning label on drinks with a certain level of carcinogens, both Coke and Pepsi tweaked their formula to avoid any such labeling.