Dear Craft Breweries:

Please develop a standard for labelling your products’ “best/enjoy before” or “packaged on” dates.

For those who do not know, all canned beverages (alcoholic or not) have a date of some sort on the bottom of the can. (Take the time now and grab a can of your favourite beverage and flip it over to look at the bottom. Make sure you did not open it first!) There should be a stamp on the bottom that includes a date. Now, when you have the time and the LCBO is not busy and take a walk into the cooler section which sells the individual cans and look at the bottoms of the various cans for sale. What do you see? A blue (typically) stamp with a date. The question is: What does that date represent? The answer: Only the brewer knows.

On a recent trip to the local LCBO, six cans of beer from six different breweries were chosen at random. Three of the cans had future dates on the bottom and, the other three had past dates. Unfortunately, none of the cans stated what the date represents.

As this is written, the COVID-19 virus has placed considerable strain on the retail sector. Which in turn has placed additional strains on manufacturers and suppliers. When perishable or “fresh” products are involved, it would be understandable if certain products lingered on the shelves longer than they normally would under different circumstances. Those three cans with past dates stamped on the bottom with no reference to their meaning could represent “best/enjoy before” dates. Or they might represent “packaged on” dates.

The onus is on the consumer, to know what the date represents. If you are a beer ‘snob’ and know your products, chances are that you already know what that date represents. You probably also know that not all products taste the same after a set period of time. You also know breweries cannot control how their product is managed once it leaves the facility. There are many moving parts from the process to the shelf.

Breweries have argued that the “best/enjoy before” date is not appropriate due to the aforementioned lack of control of their product once it leaves the facility, hence their preference for “packaged on” dates. Leaving the choice up to the consumer to decide if their product is going to taste its best when purchased. Other breweries want the consumer to know the “best/enjoy before” date, as they are the masters of their craft and know whether their product will taste as expected within the stamped date.

The position on the “packaged on” dates seem to align with the intent on educating the consumer on the freshness of the product. Seeing a date that is two-weeks prior to purchasing does provide the consumer with the confidence that they are buying a product that will meet or exceed their expectations.

The issue with either position is that the consumer who is opening up their wallet, to decide if the date on the bottom of the can that happens to be two weeks ago means that the can is past its “best/enjoy date” or its “packaged date”. This letter is to ask that a policy standard is applied across all breweries to ensure that all current and future buyers of your products are better informed on the quality of their decisions. Even if you cannot arrive at a standard, at the very least include verbiage that advises the consumer that the date is either the “best/enjoy before” date or “packaged on” date.