Industry funded drinks advertising and packaging regulator the Portman Group has reminded the industry that the deadline for drinks labels to carry prescribed advisory wording is not so very far off. Omar Bucchioni raises a glass and gives the lowdown.
Who: Portman Group
When: August 2011
Law stated as at: 31 August 2011
The Portman Group, the trade group supported by UK’s leading alcoholic beverage producers and brewers, whose main objectives focus on social responsibility issues surrounding alcohol, has recently confirmed how the alcohol industry will deliver and monitor its commitment to provide responsible drinking information on 80% of alcoholic drinks’ containers measured, by volume, in the UK off-trade sector by December 2013 (e.g. off licences, corner shops retailers wholesalers cash & carry, etc).
There are going to be three compulsory elements they require the industry to show:
a) Unit alcohol content
b) Chief Medical Officers’ daily guidelines for lower-risk consumption
c) Pregnancy warning
In addition, companies are encouraged to include:
d) Reference to the Drinkaware website www.drinkaware.co.uk; and
e) Responsibility message (e.g. ‘please drink responsibly’).
As industry regulator, Portman Group is going to monitor and report publicly on the industry’s progress towards this goal.
Small drinks containers with a volume of 50ml or below are exempted from this pledge on the grounds of practicality.
The Department of Health (DH) will also independently monitor implementation as part of the Public Health Responsibility Deal. This was launched on 15 March in order for businesses and other organisations signing up to the Deal to take action to improve public health and tackle health inequalities through a series of pledges covering food, alcohol, physical activity and health in the workplace. In particular, alcohol beverage companies have pledged to implement a health labelling scheme to better inform consumers about responsible drinking.
The Portman Group is currently contacting all companies who signed up to the labelling pledge, as well as those who have previously made a commitment to include health information on labels, asking them to reaffirm their labelling commitment.
The Responsibility Deal Pledge on labelling can be found here.
Section 2 of the pledge document contains guidelines on the content and presentation of each of the above five elements while appendix A sets out good practice examples and appendix B examples of the display of unit alcohol content.
1. On the compulsory element a) Unit alcohol content, the information, as a whole and for each individual element, should:
- be clear, legible, displayed on the primary packaging and not be difficult for consumers to find;
- be grouped together
- state the number of units in the drink (for the whole container) with the suffix “UK Units” and displayed within an appropriate icon which is to be calculated by multiplying the volume of the drink (in ml) by the alcoholic strength by volume (ABV) and dividing the answer by 1000. (For example, the number of units in a 440ml can of beer with an ABV of 4% vol. is 1.7 units – the number of units should be rounded to one decimal place. For example, 1.41 units becomes 1.4 and 2.65 units becomes 2.7)
- appear on a part of the primary packaging that is dispensed with before or immediately when the product is opened;
- contain anything which serves to undermine the health messaging.
In the case of a multi-serve container (above 500ml), companies are encouraged to display the number of units per typical serving (e.g. The typical serving for wine (up to alcohol 15% vol) should be taken as 125ml, the typical serving for spirits or liqueurs should be taken as 25ml and the typical serving for beer, cider and RTDs should be taken as 284ml (½ pint).
The size of the typical serving should be stated, i.e. 125ml, 25ml or 284ml (½ pint).
If the unit alcohol content is optionally featured on the secondary packaging of retailed multi-packs, the individual container icon should be displayed, followed or prefixed by an indication of the number of containers within the pack.
2. On the compulsory element b) Chief Medical Officers’ daily guidelines for lower-risk consumption the label should:
- state “UK Chief Medical Officers [or UK health departments/UK government/UK guidelines] recommend men do not regularly exceed 3-4 units daily [or a day/per day] and women, 2-3 units daily [or a day/per day]” or vary slightly for ease of presentation as noted in square brackets.
3. On the compulsory element c) Pregnancy warning the label should either:
- state “Avoid alcohol if pregnant or trying to conceive” OR
- display an agreed circular logo showing the silhouette of a pregnant woman holding a wine glass with a line struck across it.
4. On the optional element d) drinkaware.co.uk, the label should:
- state the website address of the independent charity, Drinkaware, preferably as drinkaware.co.uk (though the prefix “www” is acceptable).
5. On the optional element e) Responsibility statement, the label should;
- include a statement encouraging responsible consumption such as “Drink responsibly”, “Drink in moderation”, “Drink sensibly” or “Know your limits” (the prefix “Please” may be included, so may the brand name e.g. “Please drink Brand X responsibly” provided this is not done in a way that might undermine the sentiment of the statement – any variations should be checked with the Portman Group’s Advisory Service for an opinion as to whether they comply with the spirit of the labelling scheme.
Further to the Portman Group recently writing to all companies that are signatories to the labelling pledge to re-affirm it, the Portman Group will furthermore ask those companies to confirm which brands their pledge will encompass; the annual sales volume of these brands; the company’s overall annual sales volume; and the current extent of implementation and this information will be publicly accessible.
According to the Portman Group website, in Autumn of 2012 and 2013, the Portman Group shall contact each company on the database to ask for an update on the existing extent of implementation. In February of 2012 and 2013, the Department of Health shall contact each company who is a signatory to the labelling pledge in the Responsibility Deal to ask for a similar update.
By no later than September 2013, the Portman Group should instruct an independent contractor to conduct a monitoring exercise (i.e. the collection and analysis of alcoholic drinks labels throughout the UK.) The samples should be collected by no later than January 2014 and the independent contractor should assess whether or not labels are compliant with the scheme.
An appeal process should be available for both Department of Health and the company which (if any) will be found in breach of the criteria.
Finally, the independent contractor will prepare a final report stating the extent to which individual companies have achieved their publicly-available pledges. It should also estimate whether the industry will have achieved its overall target level of implementation. The report will eventually be published on the Portman Group and Department of Health websites.
Why this matters:
The words of Seymour Fortescue, Chairman of the Portman Group, summarise the commitment of the alcohol industry to inform consumers about their drinks and the service offered by the Portman Group to assist companies in achieving this goal:
“The alcohol industry is firmly committed to providing consumers with information on labels which help them make informed drinking choices. This will be a challenging target but one that we are determined will be achieved. We will publish details of the pledges, companies and brands involved on our website to ensure the process is as open and transparent as possible. We will also appoint an independent third party to conduct the final monitoring exercise.
The Portman Group will offer an advisory service for companies to check they have all the right elements in place and to offer guidance where needed. We are also encouraging any companies that have not yet signed up to the Responsibility Deal to consider doing so as we can incorporate new pledges on the database as we move forward.”