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Portman Group panel tight-lipped after Diageo criticism

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By Ben Bouckley+

22-Aug-2014
Last updated on 22-Aug-2014 at 18:12 GMT

Portman Group panel tight-lipped after Diageo criticism

The UK’s Portman Group has declined to comment after Diageo criticized a decision by the alcohol-funded body’s Independent Complaints Panel stating that a display used to drive impulse C-store sales of Smirnoff, Gordon’s and Bell’s spirits encouraged ‘irresponsible or immoderate consumption’.

The case came about after a licensing team for Northampton Borough, in Central England, complained that the counter-top location and colourful design could encourage irresponsible impulse purchases and appeal to under-18s (underage drinkers).

Text on the unit, pictured, urged consumers to ‘mix it up tonight’, and although this message referred to mixed drinks that could be made with the products, the panel said it could encourage people to drink several bottles in one sitting.

Therefore, the panel said, it breached the Portman Group’s Code of Practice under para 3.2(f) on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of alcoholic drinks.

‘Caution should be exercised’ in labeling on-pack promotions

Henry Ashworth, secretary of the Independent Complaints Panel, said: “Caution should be exercised when it comes to messaging on packaging and promotions – particularly where more than one variety of alcohol is on sale from the same point.”

But the panel did not agree as regards the appeal of the display to under-18s, since it did not display any childish fonts or cartoon-style imagery, while the color of the unit alone was not enough to breach the Portman Group’s code.

A Diageo spokesperson described the Independent Complaints Panel (ICP) decision as “disappointing” but said it respected the ruling and had decided to update the counter-top unit for commercial reasons before the complaint

‘We simply do not agree with the panel’s view’: Diageo

“We simply do not agree with the panel’s view that this unit encouraged irresponsible or immoderate consumption,” the spokesperson added.

“The unit clearly stated that each 20cl bottle contained eight drinks in each bottle, and we believe that this and the rest of the packaging encouraged responsible consumption by informing the consumer of the number of standard 25ml measures in each bottle, and suggesting that they make mixed drinks to share.”

We asked the Portman Group whether it wasn’t embarrassing that Diageo, as one of its members and financial backers, had refused to support its ruling, and whether the firm shouldn’t be supporting a body it funds and which strives to promote responsible drinking.

A spokesperson declined to comment, insisting that the general policy was not to offer comment on panel decisions and referring us to Ashworth’s comments in a release, quoted above.

We understand that Portman Group members have drawn a distinction between their support for the Portman Group and its code and occasional disagreements with its Independent Complaints Panel.

Nonetheless, Diageo’s criticism of the panel’s decision is surprising, given that it funds the Portman Group’s work alongside peers Carlsberg, ABI, Barcardi Brown-Forman Brands, SAB Miller, Molson Coors, Pernod Ricard and SHS Drinks.

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