The Portman Group’s long-awaited revised guidelines for the naming, promotion and packaging of drinks landed yesterday, and there’s a view that they got it wrong.
First, though, there’s a bit that’s been welcomed by people like Melissa Cole and Jaega Wise, and the line everyone was waiting for:
A drink’s name, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not cause serious or widespread offence.
That’s backed up by a separate and more detailed guidance note which adds this specific detail…
Particular care must be taken to avoid causing serious offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age.
… while otherwise leaving things suitably vague, ready to be tested in practice if and when complaints start to come in:
The Code rules are written as broad principles. This means that the rules are not overly prescriptive and allow the Panel to interpret and apply them on a case by case basis, taking multiple factors into account (overall impression conveyed, producer response, relevant research etc). This ensures that the Code, and its rules, are flexible to different scenarios, fit for purpose and responsive to innovation in the market…
We reckon all this leaves brewers with a fair amount of room for manoeuvre, while also providing a mechanism for challenging them. Of course the first time it’s tested will either upset free speech types (if the complaint is upheld) or the complaining classes if it isn’t, but at least the first draft of a system is there.
Now for the bit lots of people think they got wrong: in the eternal battle against strong lagers and ciders, they’ve come up with advice on packaging that would seem to catch IPA, Belgian-style beer and other high-end products in the crossfire. Here’s the top line:
The Advisory Service recommends that containers which are typically single-serve, and whose contents are typically consumed by one person in one sitting, should not contain more than four units.
Again, though, these are guidelines, not rules, and this section would seem to get as close to saying ‘PS. Does not apply to craft beer’ as could reasonably be expected:
Having more than four-units in a single-serve container will not automatically result in a product being found in breach of the Code; it is the view of the Advisory Service that the Panel is likely to take other factors into account when determining whether a product encourages immoderate consumption. It is not possible to produce an exhaustive list of mitigating factors but the Panel may consider: whether the container contained a ‘share’ message or a ‘per serve’ recommendation, how easily the container could be resealed, whether the producer was able to demonstrate that the contents were shared (by decanting) or typically consumed over more than one sitting, the premium status/quality of the product and its positioning in the market including the price at which it is generally sold, alcohol type (does the product degrade quickly once opened) and the overall impression conveyed by the product packaging (such as terminology used in the name and product description). The mitigating factors should be commensurate with the number of units (above 4 units) in the single-serve container. The Panel is also likely to take into consideration whether the packaging contains responsibility messaging, for example, the number of units in the container and a reference to the Drinkaware website.
And, one final bit of extreme devil’s advocacy: we’ve fairly frequently seen street drinkers – people obviously struggling with addiction to alcohol– with cans of BrewDog Elvis Juice at breakfast time in central Bristol. At 6.5%, and with four cans for £6 in Tesco convenience stores, it’s actually a reasonably economical and palatable way to get pissed.
So maybe the fundamental problem is the idea that there’s good booze and bad booze, when actually it’s about stable and unstable lives.