Responding to a complaint to the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) raised by the viewer of a recent TV advert for the cider - launched in the off trade in March 2013 - the world's seventh largest brewer insisted that under Section 36 of the UK Trade Descriptions Act 1968 it was entitled to make the claim.
This legislation states that “goods shall be deemed to have been manufactured or produced in the country in which they last underwent a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change”.
"Carling said that while CBC did not need to contain any British apples to be deemed "British", they confirmed that it did contain some British apples, although the amount varied between batches made. They did not believe their claim was misleading," the ASA said in its adjudication this morning.
'British' legitimately describes drink's country of origin - ASA
The ASA did not uphold the complaint upon the basis that Carling British Cider (CBC) was developed by Bevisol Ltd. in Herefordshire and is brewed using British cider-making techniques, before being bottled at Molson Coors' site in Burton upon Trent.
"We noted Carling's explanation that satisfied the food labeling regulations and as such 'British' could legitimately be used to describe CBC's country of origin," the ASA said.
"While the complainant believed the ad implied that all apples used to produce CBC were British, the ad made no such claim and we noted that CBC was in fact made with some British apples," the authority added.
Challenged as to what proportion of British apples were used in the cider, a Molson Coors spokesperson said: “Carling British Cider is made in partnership with a British cider maker in the heart of cider-making Herefordshire. For Carling products, wherever possible, we source ingredients and brew here in Britain. The legal minimum [apple] juice content in UK ciders is 35%. Carling British Cider's juice level is 65%, significantly above the required amount.”
Quality and provenance key to cider success - NACM
We asked National Association of Cider Makers (NACM) spokesman, Simon Russell, how prevalent the 'British Cider' claim was in the UK when foreign apples were used?
"British Cider is not a term that many people use. In this instance, I think that 'British' is a Carling total brand proposition, so the motivation is probably in keeping with what they do more generally. Many cider brands make a particular virtue of where they are from, even down to very small locations - Somerset, Herefordshire, wherever - ciders are even produced using the fruit of a single orchard," he replied.
"So British Cider isn't the sort of term that's use, so is perhaps unique to Carling and Molson Coors," Russell told BeverageDaily.com.
But given how crucial genealogy was to cider's growth story in the UK, didn't Russell agree that it was important that English cider, say, used English apples? "I think quality and provenance is a major part of the appeal of cider for consumers. Therefore, lots of producers make that a feature of their communication, and whatever you put in front of consumers must be deemed accurate and not misleading,"he said.
"That's true in terms of location, style, ABV, etc. Many people use quality and provenance as a positive, and many of the new market entrants want to create a point of difference. The classic example of that would be Stella Cidre, where they've intentionally made a play on the fact that it isn't a UK product. Savanna the South African cider does the same," he added.
Carling alone in the 'British Cider' space?
"There isn't presently any greater trend towards people using the term 'British Cider', but if it becomes prevalent, then clearly it's something we might look at. But right now we don't see an issue, I don't think, certainly without seeing the detail of how this relates to Molson Coors," Russell said.
Nonetheless, given Molson Coors' insistence that Carling British Cider need not contain British apples, did Russell not see such a statement as harmful for the industry in terms of consumer trust, especially if a given product (not necessarily Carling's) were thought to be of a poor quality.
"We're not in the business of rating products. Our issue is that standards and appropriate legislation are upheld. If there's an issue in this instance, then we'd hope to see it addressed quickly," he said.
We asked Molson Coors UK & Ireland this morning what proportion of foreign apples are used to make Carling British Cider, and where the other apples were sourced from, and await a reply.
The story is especially interesting in light of the new EU provision seeking to provide more Food Information to Consumers (EU Regulation 1169/2011), which came into effect on December 13.
*Article emended: 19/12/13