Branded alcohol-complaints hit decade high

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Alcoholic beverage Portman group

The Portman Group, an industry-led responsibility body says the number of complaints made under its code of practice for alcohol packaging has reached a decade-long high amidst growing concerns over drink branding.

The responsibility body, which counts Coors Brewers, Diageo, Inbev UK and Pernod Ricard UK among its members, said that during 2008, a record 21 complaints were made, with eight being upheld by an independent complaints panel.

Drink concerns

As European governments and health groups continue to raise concerns over how industry is selling and marketing alcohol around the bloc, drink makers continue to claim that self-regulation is the best means of curbing drink abuse.

The Portman code, in place within the UK since 1989, is one of many such schemes adopted across Europe as part of attempt to prevent mandatory legislation.

Under the Portman Group’s code, alcoholic drink brands must not directly target consumers under 18 years of age and also avoid encouraging rapid or heavy consumption of their products through use of ‘sexual imagery’ or ‘bravado’.

Some alcohol charities remain sceptical over just how inclined the industry truly is to work to the detriment of its own operations by committing to guidelines such as these, though Portman chief executive David Poley suggests the responsible message is getting through.

“As scrutiny of the industry’s social responsibility standards reached unprecedented levels, we went to great lengths to guarantee and promote the effectiveness of our code,”​ he stated in the group’s 2008 annual report. “The findings of the audit suggest that the overwhelming majority of drinks companies market their drinks in a socially responsibly manner.”

The responsibility body said besides receiving the highest number of complaints, 2008 also set a record for the cases of companies turning to the group for advice on packaging design.

More than 250 cases of industry consultation occurred during the most recent twelve-month period, said the Portman Group.

Audit time

According to the group, the focus on drink makers was aided by an audit from management consultancy PIPC that tested 485 drinks packages in relation to the Portman code.

Despite receiving criticism from some players within the industry for the pratice, Poley suggested that almost half of the 2008 complaints received had come from the audit and that the focus may continue in the coming year.

“This audit may have been unpopular with a few companies but robust, independent auditing is important,”​ he stated. “It is one of the reasons why the government stopped short of extending the mandatory retail code to drinks producers.”

However, scepticism still remains over what the industry may obtain from pushing responsible drinking messages.

Andrew McNeill, honorary secretary for the alcohol policy group Eurocare, told last year that around the world, similar industry-led schemes are still viewed with concern by some health professionals.

"One difficulty for the industry is that it is hard to persuade health care groups that it will voluntarily work to its own detriment," ​he said.

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