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Monday, October 19, 1998 Published at 08:54 GMT 09:54 UK


Alcopops firms rapped by watchdog

The watchdog's code is aimed at combating under-age drinking

The BBC's Tristram Biggs reports on the complaints
Three drinks companies have come under fire from an alcohol watchdog for producing so-called alcopops whose packaging suggested a link with sexual prowess and bore a symbol similar to an illegal drug.

Alcopops, long charged with deliberately targeting under-age drinkers, are monitored by the licensed trades' own watchdog the Portman Group.

It developed a code of practice two years ago to combat alcohol misuse - particularly among children - and allay fears by regulating the industry itself.

In its latest report the group upheld complaints against two drinks - Stunn Potent Passion and Wild Brew.

Whitbread - one of Britain's biggest breweries - was criticised for its use of a marijuana emblem on its Wild Brew drink.

[ image: Alcohol is often disguised by a sweet taste]
Alcohol is often disguised by a sweet taste
The firm is actually one of the nine signatories to the watchdog's code on alcopops.

This was the second time that Whitbread has been rapped for using leaves resembling marijuana on its packaging.

The Portman Group said it was "disappointed" that Whitbread had not taken heed of its warning the first time complaints were made.

Whitbread has since redesigned the packaging.

The Portman Group's director Jean Coussins said: "The code has been remarkably successful in helping to lift marketing standards so that drinks do not appeal to children or encourage anti-social behaviour. This progress was welcomed recently by the Government who applauded the Code's successes.

"It is therefore particularly disappointing to be reporting on a further complaint against a product manufactured by a company which has endorsed the code.

"Whitbread had voluntarily agreed 'not to produce any further stocks of Wild Brew using the leaf emblem' in response to a previous complaint. In spite of this a small extra batch of the product was produced."

Sexual success

Another product, Stunn, a blackurrant drink with an alcohol volume of 5%, received complaints that the name Stunn could be associated with aggression and the words Potent Passion could suggest sexual success.

The watchdog agreed and contacted the makers, The Bay Investment Company, but they failed to respond.

The Portman Group has now asked retailers to refuse to stock the drink.

An off licence has also been rapped by the watchdog for displaying an alcoholic drink on its sweet counter.

The Portman Group's Graham Goodwin said the watchdog's code of practice had resulted in a "dramatic" decline in the number of complaints against alcopops and a rise in the number of manufacturers seeking marketing advice from the group before launching a product.

He told BBC News 24: "It marks a sea change in the attitude of the industry towards these kinds of issues. We're dealing now with rather more responsible marketeers, rather more responsible retailers and long may that continue."

Sales to double

Alcopops were introduced to the UK in 1995. Most have an alcohol content of 5% - the equivalent of a bottle of strong lager - but the alcohol is disguised by drinks' sweet taste.

Critics claim that they target young drinkers but this is strongly denied by the manufacturers.

In the year after their launch sales of alcopops tripled and market analysts predict that, despite a recent dip, sales will double again by the year 2000.

Government statistics show that although there has been no rise during the 1990s in the number of 11 to 15-year-olds drinking, those who do are consuming larger amounts of alcohol.

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