Applying its code on the naming, packaging and promotion of alcoholic drinks, the alcohol industry-funded watchdog has got over 70 products taken off the market since 1996. But there are still some parts of booze retail activity the code does not reach.
Who: The Portman Group
When: January 2005
The Portman Group ("PG") was established in 1989 by leading UK drinks producers. Its purpose was to promote sensible drinking, to help prevent alcohol misuse and to foster a balanced understanding of alcohol related issues.
It operates a Code of Practice in respect of which it adjudicates on complaints. The Code relates to the naming, packaging and promotion of alcoholic drinks.
In the eight years since the first edition of the Code was published, the PG has got over seventy products taken off the market.
Each year, the PG publishes an annual report. In its report for 2004, it was pleased to confirm 100% compliance by the industry with the panel's decisions during the year. It was, however, concerned about problems arising from two particular areas that were not covered by the PG Code at all. These were retailer-led point of sale promotions and what it calls the "unacceptable face of happy hour". The PG says that this gap in the regulatory framework must be plugged.
The report also identifies a theme of the year as "sexual success", or do they mean excess? The decisions of the panel during the year reflected the Code's intent to prevent the "sexualisation" of pre-packaged alcoholic drinks, with complainers fearing that teenage drinkers in particular were being targeted by titillating alco pop-style drinks that link binge drinking with sexual prowess.
In one case, the Magic Bru Company was taken to task over its energy drink "V". The drink claimed to contain a blend of "Super Energy Extract" and two shots of vodka. SEX appeared in large capital letters, reading vertically up the side of the bottle neck.
Magic Bru defended principally on the basis that SEX was not what it seemed, but was short for "Super Energy Extract". Hmmm….
The Panel rejected Magic Bru's arguments and found an inappropriate association with sexual success.
In other cases, complaints were upheld in respect of pornographic names for pre-packaged cocktails, but here the PG bemoans the fact that the Code does not extend to cocktail drinks made up on licensed premises. This creates a situation where the panel can find that a pre-packaged cocktail with a particular name offends against the code and must be withdrawn, whilst a made-to-order cocktail with the same name can be promoted and sold on retail premises with impunity.
Why this matters:
The activities of the PG are being eyed closely by some who feel that the food industry would benefit from a similar body. But will their efforts and new TV booze ad rules be enough to stave off tighter legal controls?