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Diageo tells FTC: ‘Help us cross US alcohol facts finish line’

By Ben Bouckley+

15-Feb-2013
Last updated the 18-Feb-2013 at 11:02 GMT

Diageo tells BeverageDaily.com it welcomes a US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommendation that high-alcohol malt beverage brand Four Loko carry 'serving fact' information on some cans, but urges regulators to allow the wider alcoholic drinks industry to 'cross the finish line'.

The FTC’s wider ruling settled its charges against Chicago-based Phusion Projects and its principals for, in the Commission’s words, “falsely claiming that a 23.5oz [693ml] can of Four Loko contains the alcohol equivalent of one or two regular 12oz beers, and that a consumer could drink one entire can safely on a single occasion”.

In October 2011 the FTC said it considered such consumption of such products “binge drinking”, since alcohol by volume (ABV) levels in the drink were 11-12% ABV.

Subject to approval of the FTC measure by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), Chicago-based brand owner Phusion must now include labels for some of its malt-based beverages that detail container size, ABV percentage, number of servings and serving size in fluid ounces.

‘We are getting closer…’ Diageo

Diageo North America welcomed the decision, but Guy Smith, executive VP, called on US regulators to allow ‘serving fact’ information on all beverage alcohol products.

“Today, we still cannot legally print this information on bottles and cans of distilled spirits, beer and wine,” Smith said. But we are getting closer and we urge the TTB to help us cross the finish line.”

Diageo had led the industry since 2003 in calling on US regulators – with consumer and public health advocates – to allow serving fact information on alcoholic drinks, Smith said, as the only consumable products largely prohibited from including such data.

“It is simply common sense that consumers have easy to this information…which is important in helping consumers make informed and responsible decisions,” he added.

The FTC’s ruling comes after a public comment period on a proposed order against Phusion that was accepted for public comment in October 2011; this was subsequently revised last week to reflect views in 250 public comments received.

The FTC added that fact labels must also carry the statement: “According to US Dietary Guidelines, a serving contains 0.6oz of pure alcohol”.

“This Alcohol Facts disclosure is truthful and non-misleading, and together with the other relief provided in the order, corrects the deception alleged in the complaint,” the FTC said.

Phusion agrees, but disagrees...

Having gained TTB approval for its Alcohol Facts label – a sample version from the FTC is visible below – Phusion has 90 days to place such a panel on products.

Confirming its new agreement with the FTC, Phusion said it did not agree with the body’s allegations regarding its product packaging and marketing practices, but that the ruling settled its issues with the body.

The company must also provide consumers with the ability to reseal containers for some of its products, such as the 23.5oz, 12% and 8% ABV Four Loko products, within six months.

Jaisen Freeman, co-founder of Phusion Projects, said:“We share a common interest with the FTC in providing consumers with information and packaging options to help them make informed, responsible decisions.”

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