Canned whisky would be shot in dark on UK market, Alcohol Concern

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Portman group, Scotch whisky association, Scotland, Alcoholism

Canned whisky would be shot in dark on UK market, Alcohol Concern
Alcohol Concern has warned about the ‘absurd’ effects of marketing canned Scotch whisky in the UK, following a controversial launch of such a product in the US.

According to The Mail​, a Scottish distillery has produced a Scotch whisky packaged in a 12oz (354ml) can, and hopes that the product will hit US retailers by February 1 priced at $5 (€3.89) per unit.

However, the cans (an illustrative concept is pictured) cannot be resealed once opened, which has led media outlets to question whether the firm – Scottish Spirits Imports – could fall foul of regulators in the same way as US super-strength lager​ Four Loco.

This strong lager (11-12% ABV) is sold in large 23.5oz (695ml) cans, and last autumn brand owner Phusion Projects was accused by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of deceptive advertising, for claiming that consumers could safely drink one can at a single sitting.

However, Ken Rubenfeld, vice president of Scottish Spirits Imports, which is launching the whisky in the US, told the Huffington Post: “We want people to be responsible, this is 12 fluid oz of Scotch whisky and people should treat it as such.”

'Can offers no advantage'

But a spokesman for Alcohol Concern – the UK’s national agency on alcohol misuse – told BeverageDaily.com: “It is absurd to sell eight shots of spirits in a container that cannot be resealed, meaning that the product must be consumed in one go, or wasted.

“A can offers no advantage for consumers over the smaller bottle sizes which are readily available, and it certainly isn’t more convenient. The only purpose for such packaging is as a sales gimmick.”

The Portman Group is a UK industry constituted body that enforces a voluntary code of practice, the ‘Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks'.

Its nine members include AB InBev, Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands, Beverage Brands (UK), C&G Group, Carslberg UK, Diageo GB, Heineken UK, Molson Coors UK and Pernod Ricard UK.

Asked whether the Portman Group would endorse any UK sale of the canned whisky in question, spokeswoman Sarah Hanratty told BeverageDaily.com it was difficult to comment on individual products until the group had considered a full proposal (via its packaging advisory service).

She said: “As far as we are aware, this product is not currently on sale in the UK.”

Hanratty added: “We enforce strict rules to make sure alcohol is marketed responsibly and producers should contact the Portman Group before launching new products to ensure they do not encourage irresponsible or immoderate consumption.”

Code of practice consultation

But there was currently nothing in the code that specifically governed container size and number of units, Hanratty said, although the group is asking that this be reviewed via a consultation – prompted by the UK government’s Responsibility Deal – ending on January 31.

First launched in 1996, the code has undergone three reviews thereafter, but the Portman Group said that – since the last review in 2006 – the marketing environment had seen significant changes.

However, clause 3.2 (G) of the current code states that packaging should not in any way, either directly or indirectly, “urge the consumer to drink rapidly or to 'down' a product in one”.

Asked whether it had concerns that canned whisky could encourage binge drinking, a Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) spokeswoman told BeverageDaily.com: “In the UK it’s not on the market yet. Some reports in the US say it will go on sale next month, others that it’s already on sale, but we haven’t seen it yet.

She added: “But we do recognise there could be some concerns. If and when it did come on sale, we’d then have to discuss any concerns with the company that’s selling the whisky.”

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