Two beers produced by the brewer Northern Monk – Rocket Lolly IPA and Wasted Hot Cross Bun Pale Ale – have been discontinued after complaints by members of the public were upheld by the alcohol industry’s Independent Complaints Panel (Panel). A copy of the full decision for Rocket Lolly IPA is available here and a copy of the full decision for Wasted Hot Cross Bun Pale Ale is available here.

Rocket Lolly IPA

The Panel ruled that ‘Rocket Lolly IPA’, had a particular appeal to under-18s (Code rule 3.2h) and didn’t communicate the alcoholic nature of the drink with absolute clarity (Code rule 3.1)

One complainant said: “We have raised our 4-year-old to understand what alcohol is and why he is not permitted to try it. However, when he saw his dad drinking this beer and heard that it was called Rocket Lolly, he became very upset that he wasn’t allowed to try it, even after we made clear it was beer. Of the dozens of different can designs he’s seen, this is the only one that has ever held appeal to him.”

The Panel noted that frozen rocket lollies are primarily marketed at young children, and that the label included bright contrasting colours and cartoons. It therefore concluded that the product packaging had a particular appeal to under-18s and upheld the complaints under Code rule 3.2(h).

The Panel also found that the alcoholic descriptor ‘IPA’ and the drink’s alcoholic strength by volume (ABV) of 4.7% were not easily visible on the packaging because they were presented in a comparatively small black font which was not easily visible against a dark purple background.  The Panel considered that in the context of a well-known frozen ice lolly which made a virtue of its fruit flavours in design, and was not a product typically associated with alcohol, the packaging should work harder to ensure that it communicated its alcoholic nature with absolute clarity.  Therefore, the Panel also upheld the complaint under Code rule 3.1.

Wasted Hot Cross Bun Pale Ale

A complaint was also made against a second Northern Monk beer, Wasted Hot Cross Bun Pale Ale, under Code rule 3.2(f) which states that a drink, its packaging or any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way encourage illegal, irresponsible, or immoderate consumption, such as drink-driving, binge-drinking, or drunkenness.

The complainant said: “The word wasted is common slang for being very, very drunk […and] the most prominent word on the packaging.”

The Panel acknowledged that the beer was intended to generate discussion about food waste in the UK and that some of its proceeds went to charity. However, the Panel expressed concern about the prominence of the word ‘wasted’ on pack and considered that most consumers would be familiar with the slang interpretation of the word and, when included on an alcoholic drink, it would be more readily associated with a style of consumption rather than food wastage.

On this basis, the Panel concluded that the packaging indirectly encouraged immoderate consumption and drunkenness. Accordingly, the Panel upheld the complaint under Code rule 3.2(f).

Northern Monk have now discontinued both products.

Commenting on the decision, the interim Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel, Rachel Childs, said: “I welcome that Northern Monk has decided to discontinue both beers which in this instance have fallen foul of the Code. Producers of alcoholic drinks should take care to ensure their products are marketed responsibly, without a particular appeal to children and that they do not encourage, even indirectly, immoderate consumption. I would encourage all producers who are unsure of the requirements under the Code to contact the Portman Group’s free and confidential Advisory Service.”



Northern Monk Brewery


“The word ‘wasted’ is common slang being very, very drunk – by using it in the name of the product and featuring it so prominently on the can, Northern Monk are encouraging immoderate consumption and unwise levels of drunkenness.
I understand that the product is made using hot cross buns that would otherwise be thrown away with the full name (“Wasted Hot Cross Bun Pale Ale”) being a reference to that, and that the can has other information that clarifies this. However, the word ‘wasted’ is in the largest font on the can and separated from the second half of the name, and the hashtag #STOPWASTINGFOOD is significantly smaller and placed at the bottom of the label. ‘Wasted’ is therefore the most prominent word on the packaging, with the layout drawing attention to the word by itself rather than the novel nature of the ingredients. The clarification of the ingredients elsewhere is insufficient to mitigate the presentation of the word.”


Member of the public


Under Code paragraph 3.2(f)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should
not in any direct or indirect way encourage illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption, such as drink-driving, binge-drinking or drunkenness.


The company’s submission:

The company explained that one of its core values was ‘community’ and was disappointed to learn of the complaint. The company stated that it consciously considered the positioning and impact of its products within communities at all stages of conception and that it intended to work co-operatively with the Portman Group to address the concerns raised without diluting the intended impact of its messaging.

The company stated it was one of the most premium craft breweries in the UK and a champion of safe and responsible drinking. The company explained that, for context, it was operating in challenging marketing conditions which had led to the closure of many breweries.

The company stated that Wasted Hot Cross Bun Pale Ale was a beer series developed in collaboration with a charity called Surplus to Purpose. For every purchase of the beer, a donation was made to the organisation. The company explained that there was a £20 billion food waste crisis in the UK, and the intention of the beer was to highlight, contribute and raise funds for the social mission. The company noted that due to the nature of the charity and the social mission, there were limited ways to articulate the issue to consumers without including the word ‘wasted’ on the drinks packaging.
The company explained that it was dedicated to continuing to support the issue and its partners, and that it would be willing to make minor changes if required to ensure the context of ‘wasted’ was clear. However, the company warned that significant changes to the wording on the drinks packaging would dilute the impact of the message and in turn affect the ability of the product to highlight the issue and fundraise for the charity.

The Panel’s assessment:

The Panel considered the producer’s response and acknowledged that Wasted Hot Cross Bun Pale Ale was intended to generate discussion about food waste in the UK and that some proceeds from product sales went to support the charity Surplus to Purpose.

The Panel assessed the overall impression conveyed by the packaging under Code rule 3.2(f). The Panel noted that the word ‘Wasted’ appeared prominently on the front of the label above an image of a hot cross bun, with the text ‘hot cross bun’ and ‘#stopwastingfood’ appearing in a smaller font at the bottom of the packaging. When assessing the product in its entirety, the Panel also considered that there were no other cues on the packaging which denoted drunkenness or immoderate consumption on either the front or back label. In addition to this, the Panel noted the complainant had identified the intention behind the product name and that it was therefore likely that other consumers would also understand the context of its use.

The Panel then discussed the term ‘wasted’ in the context of an alcoholic drink which typically referred to drunkenness or immoderate consumption and expressed fundamental concern about the phrase being used in a tongue in cheek way on an alcoholic product. The Panel considered that most consumers would be familiar with the slang interpretation of the word, and when included on an alcoholic drink, ‘wasted’ would be more readily associated with a style of consumption, rather than food wastage, despite its context on pack. The Panel discussed the producer’s response but disagreed that ‘wasted’ was the only language that could be used to promote its message of using surplus food rather than disposing of it. While the intended messaging of the drink was to promote an important social issue, the Panel was mindful of the need for precedents to leave a relatively narrow margin for the use of terms which describe drunkenness on alcohol packaging. Therefore, when considering the prominence of the word ‘wasted’ on the packaging, and the word’s
primary meaning in relation to alcohol, the Panel concluded that the packaging indirectly encouraged immoderate consumption and drunkenness. Accordingly, the Panel upheld the complaint under 3.2(f).

Action by Company:

Product has been discontinued.


Northern Monk Brewery

Complaint one:

“I believe the name and main image on this packaging appeal particularly to children. While the background pictures and name font are unlikely to be of particular appeal by themselves, they also contribute to the childlike effect.

“As a family of beer lovers and home brewers, we have raised our 4 year old to understand what alcohol is and why he is not permitted to try it. He knows what a beer can looks like and that it contains alcohol, which he is aware can harm him and he should not drink it. He has never asked to try beer, and if you ask him in jest he will clearly refuse it and say that alcohol is not for children. However, when he saw his dad drinking this beer and heard that it was called Rocket Lolly, he became very upset that he wasn’t allowed to try it, even after we made clear it was beer.

“Of the dozens of different can designs he’s seen, this is the only one that has ever held appeal to him – appeal so strong that he’s upset about not being permitted a drink that he would ordinarily tell you off for pretending to offer him.

“Rocket ice lollies are a particularly childish product and the cartoon imagery is redolent of ice lolly packaging. The background images could have come straight from my son’s sheets of stickers and colouring books. While the brewery may argue that they aimed for nostalgia rather than childishness, this would miss the fact that rocket lollies are still highly popular with children and are not just an artefact of adults’ childhoods. The primary appeal here is to children, not to adults; the name and imagery are highly inappropriate for an alcoholic product.

“I was served sponsored search ads for these two ice lolly products today and the packaging for both struck me as almost identical to the can, even down to the background graphics. Many of the customer reviews specifically mention buying them for children.”


Member of the public

Complaint two:

“Northern Monk Rocket Lolly IPA.

“Appealing to under 18 using a specific type of ice lolly for name and images. Whilst IPA is mentioned on the can this is in a darker colour and is not clearly visible”

Complainant two:

Member of the public


Under Code paragraph 3.1
The alcoholic nature of a drink should be communicated on its packaging with absolute clarity.


Under Code paragraph 3.2(h)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way have a particular appeal to under-18s.


The company’s submission:

The company explained that one of its core values was ‘community’ and was disappointed to learn of the complaint. The company stated that it consciously considered the positioning and impact of its products within communities at all stages of conception and that it intended to work co-operatively with the Portman Group.

The company stated it was one of the most premium craft breweries in the UK and a champion of safe and responsible drinking. The company explained that, for context, it was operating in challenging marketing conditions which had led to the closure of many breweries.

The company explained that Rocket Lolly IPA was designed to celebrate heritage and nostalgic food and drink experiences, with the packaging intended to be reminiscent of Rocket Lolly packaging popular in the 1980s and 1990s. The company explained that the drink retailed at a price which was double the cost of a pack of eight rocket ice lollies. The company stated that the beer was a strawberry, orange and pineapple IPA which was marketed at discerning consumers who enjoy the exploration of culinary inspired beers.

In light of the complaints received about the product, the company explained that it had taken the decision to remove Rocket Lolly IPA from production and only had minimal stock left with select retailers.

The Panel’s assessment:

Code rule 3.1
The Panel first considered whether the packaging of Rocket Lolly IPA communicated its alcoholic nature with absolute clarity as raised by the second complainant. The Panel considered that the overall theme of the beer was based on a type of frozen lolly, namely a ‘rocket lolly’ which was traditionally shaped like a rocket and used the colours red, orange and yellow to represent three fruit flavours. The Panel noted that the front of the packaging included a large image of a rocket lolly, the flavour descriptor ‘Strawberry, Orange and Pineapple’, and the name of the drink ‘Rocket Lolly IPA’.

The Panel also noted that the colour palette employed for the word ‘rocket’ incorporated bold elements of red, orange and yellow, surrounded by a black bold outline, which stood out against the predominantly dark purple label. In addition to this, the word ‘lolly’ had been presented clearly in white font on the dark purple background. In contrast to this, the Panel observed that the alcoholic descriptor ‘IPA’ and the drink’s alcoholic strength by volume (ABV) of 4.7% were both presented on the front label in a comparatively small black font which was not easily visible against the dark purple background. The Panel noted that the front and side label did include references to hops but considered that in the context of the above, neither reference was presented as clearly as other information on pack.

The Panel then assessed the packaging in its entirety and noted that there were some positive alcohol cues on the back label, such as the product’s ABV and the unit content of the drink. However, on balance, the Panel considered that in the context of a well-known frozen ice lolly which made a virtue of its fruit flavours in design, and was not a product typically associated with alcohol, the packaging should work harder to ensure that it communicated its alcoholic nature with absolute clarity. In this instance, the Panel concluded that the comparatively small black font used for the product’s alcoholic signifiers on a dark purple background were difficult to read and not as prominent as the product’s direct link to a non-alcoholic frozen ice lolly which could cause confusion for consumers as to whether the drink contained alcohol. Therefore, the Panel did not consider that the packaging of the drink communicated its alcoholic nature with absolute clarity and accordingly upheld the complaint under Code rule 3.1.

The Panel then considered whether the packaging had a particular appeal to under-18s as raised by both complainants. The Panel discussed the producer response which stated that the intention of the branding was to invoke a sense of nostalgia for adult consumers who enjoyed rocket lollies in their childhood. The Panel considered the appeal of rocket lollies and noted that as a frozen lolly they were still readily available and enjoyed by children today, noting in particular that the frozen lolly was typically retailed alongside other frozen lollies aimed at children. The Panel acknowledged that while some adults may enjoy rocket lollies, the frozen lolly strongly resonated with, and was primarily marketed at, young children. Whilst the Panel acknowledged that such appeal could sometimes be unintentional, in the sense that a producer may not intend to appeal to a younger age group, the Panel encouraged alcohol producers to take care when trying to invoke a sense of childhood nostalgia in adults so as not to include elements which could have particular appeal to
contemporary children.

In that context, the Panel then assessed the overall impression conveyed by the packaging. The Panel discussed the recent findings of a Kids Industries report commissioned by the Panel and the Portman Group, entitled ‘Marketing that Appeals to Under-18s’. The Panel noted that the label included bright contrasting colours, a cartoon image of a rocket lolly with a bold black keyline, thick outlined fonts and onomatopoeic phrases. The Panel also noted the inclusion of a white explosion on the front label which read as ‘Blast Hop!’ and was reminiscent of speech bubbles in some comics. The Panel considered the combination of all these elements, in the context of a rocket lolly theme which had a particular appeal to under-18s in and of itself and concluded that the product packaging had a particular appeal to under-18s. Accordingly, the Panel upheld the complaints under Code rule 3.2(h).

Action by Company:

Product has been discontinued.

The Portman Group has amended a rule in its Naming and Packaging Code of Practice to bolster protection for under-18s following a public consultation.

The Portman Group ran a narrow three month long public consultation between May and July of this year to clarify the application of Code Rule 3.2(h) relating to particular appeal to under-18s. The consultation received written submissions from a range of stakeholders, including trade associations, the charity sector and alcohol producers all of which were supportive of the proposed changes to the Code.

After consultation, the revised Code of Practice, the Sixth Edition (Amended) has now been published. The amended rule now explicitly prohibits brand names, logos and trademarks on merchandise which has particular appeal to under-18s or is intended for use primarily by under-18s.

The new rule reads in full: “A drink, its packaging, and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way have a particular appeal to under 18s. A producer must not allow the placement of brand names, logos or trademarks on merchandise which has a particular appeal to under-18s or is intended for use primarily by under-18s.

The amendment to the Code ensures consistency between the Portman Group’s Naming, Packaging, and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks Code and its Alcohol Sponsorship Code, with the intention of preventing any link between alcohol and childhood.

Following publication there will now be a three-month grace period during which time producers and marketers are expected to familiarise themselves with the change to the Code and arrange training for staff, including from the Portman Group, on the newly amended Code Rule 3.2(h). The existing Code will continue to apply during this time.

During the consultation, the Portman Group also reviewed whether any process efficiencies could be made to the complaints system. Amendments have been made to the Informal Resolution Process and the formal investigation process intended to streamline the process without affecting the rights of those complaining or of producers.  The changes can be found in full here.

Commenting on the revised Code, Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, said: “The Portman Group’s primary purpose as a self-regulator is to protect consumers from harm, particularly those who may be vulnerable, so a fundamental priority is protecting those who are under 18.

“We know that the industry already has a strong record of compliance in this area, with 76% of complaints not upheld in 2022 but it remains a core area of concern that we deal with in our complaints system and free, confidential Advisory Service. It’s therefore vital that the Code constantly evolves in in a way that reflects the creative and dynamic industry it regulates, in order to maintain its effectiveness.

“This change further prevents any link between alcohol and childhood.”

The Advisory Service recently attended the 2023 Brewers Congress where we were able to meet and chat with various producers and distributors. A common question that came up was in regard to the on-trade and how exactly our Code applies.

Pump Clips

While the majority of the advice requests we receive are in relation to packaging, its worth remembering that pump clips are covered by our Code. Pump clips can be a great way to stand out in the on-trade, and in recent years novelty, bright and colourful designs have become more common place. Some pump clips can now incorporate specific shape designs which can also place greater emphasis on artwork or a product’s brand heritage. It’s worth bearing in mind that the Code will apply in full and while the purchase of alcohol is age-restricted in this environment, entry to the venue is not always age-restricted and pump clips can still be seen by all age groups. The Code is designed to protect those aged under-18 and regardless of whether they can purchase the alcohol, the pump clip design still cannot have a particular appeal to under-18s.  Similarly, the sixth edition of the Code introduced Code rule 3.3 which prevents alcohol marketing from causing serious or widespread offence. It’s therefore important that pump clips do not include anything which could be deemed derogatory, demeaning or discriminatory. For example, gratuitous nudity or objectification of a person is unlikely to be acceptable, even if this is intended to be ‘humorous’ or a reference to brand heritage.

On-Trade Promotion

We often get asked about navigating promotions run for the on-trade, from loyalty cards, to buy one get one free offers.  If such marketing is led by, or run in collaboration with, an alcohol producer, then it’s likely our Code will apply. One of the most common issues we see with on-trade promotions in the Advisory Service fall under Code rule 3.2(f) (encouraging immoderate/irresponsible/illegal consumption). For instance, happy hours can encourage consumers to drink excessively in a short period of time to make the most of a limited time discount and are likely to be problematic under this rule. Any promotion which encourages consumers to drink more than they otherwise would have done in an irresponsible way or encourages them to drink to excess are likely to breach the Code.

Co-promotional marketing

While exclusively retailer-led activity is not covered by our Code of Practice, if a producer is involved in a co-promotional marketing activity, then this will be captured in our remit. For instance, co-promotional point of sale posters, promotions or drink offers, competitions and even menus can be captured by the Code.

It’s worth remembering that co-promotional activity refers to marketing activity between a producer and retailer, which has taken place with the approval or support of a producer, even if that activity is predominantly retailer-led. As an example, if you are providing branded empty belly posters where a retailer can fill in the middle of the poster, we would recommend providing a set of guidelines as to what material would and would not be acceptable in terms of alcohol marketing.

There are a lot of different things to think about in the on-trade, so why not get some clarity by reaching out to the Advisory Service for free, confidential, and non-binding advice.

Year on year, we are drinking less and moderating our alcohol intake. According to Government tracked date, 79% of UK adults either do not drink or stick within the Chief Medical Officer lower risk guidelines – 79% in England, 77% in Scotland, 83% in Wales and 80% in Northern Ireland¹. Since 2004, annual alcohol consumption in the UK has fallen by 15%, declining from 11.55 litres of pure alcohol in 2004 to 9.8 litres in 2019². The effect can be seen through the generations with younger generations drinking less and more moderately – learn more here.

These trends are the result of lifestyle and behavioural changes in UK society as many of us seek to make healthier choices. This has been supported by industry actions, which have had a significant part to play in helping educate consumers, ensuring information is displayed on labelling, and promoting responsible alcohol practices through industry campaigns and in partnership with Government. In this blog we take a deep dive into some of these industry-funded initiatives that are helping drive this moderate drinking trend.


Founded in 2006, Drinkaware is an independent alcohol education charity. It’s aim is to provide impartial, evidence-based information, advice and practical resources; raising awareness of alcohol and its harms and working collaboratively with partners. It is funded by unrestricted voluntary donations from more than 120 organisations, including UK alcohol producers, retailers, supermarkets, venues, restaurant groups and sports associations.

One way in which Drinkaware helps consumers cut down is through its free MyDrinkaware App. It helps track a person’s alcohol consumption, calculate units and calories and set goals to help them moderate their drinking. By tracking units, calories and sleep quality, side-by-side, MyDrinkaware can guide the user towards a healthier lifestyle that works for them. To learn more and to download the app, click here.

Following an incredibly successful joint campaign with Public Health England in 2018 to incorporate ‘drink-free days’ into our week, many of us still follow this plan to help us moderate or cut down our consumption of alcohol.

And finally, another useful tool Drinkaware provides is its Unit and Calorie Calculator, which can calculate unit and calories for one or more drinks and across the week. Learn more and try it out here.

These are just a few examples of the abundance of support Drinkaware provides in helping to educate consumers and encourage moderate drinking. More information of the rest of its work and campaigns can be found on its website here.

Alcohol labelling

Since the Public Health Responsibility Deal, the Portman Group has been responsible for the for the best practice guidance for communicating alcohol and health-related information. The Alcohol Labelling Guidelines set the minimum recommended best practice elements for product labelling, which includes the 2016 CMO Low Risk Drinking Guidelines, provision of unit information, a pregnancy message or symbol, and a direction to Drinkaware so consumers can learn more about the facts about alcohol and make more informed choices.

The Guidance builds on over a decade of success in improving access to information, resulting in more than 99% of products containing a pregnancy warning message or logo, 94% demonstrating unit content, 93% displaying a Drinkaware or responsibility message, and almost four in five (79%) carrying the latest UK Chief Medical Officer low risk drinking guidelines³. These figures are expected to be improved upon and no doubt we will see this in our next Market Review in 2024.

More information on the updated guidance can be found here.

SWA’s Made to be Measured campaign

Launched in March 2023 by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), Made to be Measured aims to raise awareness of the alcohol content of drinks and the recommended weekly guidelines (units). As Scotland’s national drink, carefully crafted and only released after many years of maturation in warehouses across the country, Scotch Whisky is there to be savoured and enjoyed responsibly. The campaign, aimed at adults in Scotland, will run across a range of digital and consumer platforms, all using creative advertising to help convey and clarify the units within Scotch Whisky and other alcoholic drinks.

In September 2023, the Scottish Government pledged its support for the campaign ahead of the festive period, as the First Minister met the SWA’s governing Council to discuss how the industry and government can work in partnership.

To learn more about the campaign, visit the SWA’s website here.

Low and no alcohol alternatives

Availability and consumption of low and no alcohol alternatives has grown significantly in recent years. For five years now, the Portman Group has run a survey with YouGov to look at UK public attitudes to low and no alcohol alternatives.

In our most recent survey in January 2023, we found 29% of UK drinkers now ‘semiregularly’* consume low and no alcohol products (29%), with 21% saying that their weekly consumption had decreased since first trying a low and no alcohol alternative**. For the fifth year in a row, the most cited reasons (57% of respondents) for why consumers choose low and no alcohol are to drive home and not drink excessively at social events.

Our research continues to tell a positive story of how low and no products have become part of UK consumer buying habits. Five years of polling have given us a substantial data set to reflect and build conclusions. It shows how these products are by and large bought by current alcohol drinkers across all age groups, as a key tool for moderation and responsible drinking.

To learn more about our survey and read about the findings from our latest edition, visit our website here.

The Future

It is important that we keep driving forward approaches which help people to moderate their drinking. In working with Governments and partners, we can anticipate that the trend to moderate will continue as more people join an ever more responsible drinking environment.

  1. Health Survey for England, December 2022 / Scottish Health Survey, November 2022/ National Survey for Wales, July 2023 / Health Survey Northern Ireland, December 2020
  2. WHO, May 2021
  3. Portman Group, Market Review, September 2021– research of June/July 2021)

* Incorporating those who responded drinking low and no alcohol either ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’).

** Removing those who did not drink alcohol before first trying a low/no alternative.

The Portman Group has created a ‘quick read’ document which highlights the main elements that producers should be mindful of to ensure that alcohol marketing does not encourage immoderate, irresponsible, or illegal consumption. Read on for the key points that you should bear in mind to stay compliant with Code rule 3.2(f).

Immoderate consumption

The quick read looks at how on-trade promotions, words, phrases, imagery and other factors could fall foul of the Code. For example, using phrases like ‘wasted’ or ‘smashed’ are likely to be an issue because of the connotation they have with intoxication. ‘Having a session’ is also likely to be an issue because it infers drinking for a long period of time is acceptable. However, it is the view of the Advisory Service that ‘session’ when used as ‘session IPA’ for example, may be acceptable where it is clearly communicating a lower strength IPA. If ‘session IPA’ were used alongside other elements though, which inferred intoxication, it may be found to be a contributing factor in a breach of the Code. Finally, using an image or depicting drunkenness in your marketing is likely to be found in breach of this Code rule because it could encourage consumers to drink to the point of being drunk.

In addition to this, the quick read also explains the points to be mindful of when using packaging which is typically single-serve and non-resealable and contains four units or more.

Irresponsible Consumption

Alcohol marketing can be found to be in breach of Code rule 3.2(f) if it encourages irresponsible consumption and it’s worth bearing in mind that it does not need to simultaneously encourage immoderate consumption to be problematic.

For example, serving ‘shared’ drinks in large containers, such as a fishbowl, without providing a way for the consumer to decant the drink (and therefore gauge how much alcohol they are consuming) is likely to be considered as encouraging irresponsible consumption. Additionally, encouraging consumers to drink at a time which would be socially irresponsible, before an exam for ‘luck’ for example, or before going to work, are likely to be seen as encouraging irresponsible consumption.

It is not just direct encouragement to drink alcohol irresponsibly that can breach this Code rule, as indirect claims will also be captured. For example, if a drink purports to have a therapeutic benefit, then a consumer may be encouraged to drink based on the implied effect gained from the drink, rather than basing consumption on alcohol content. This would indirectly encourage irresponsible consumption and is therefore unacceptable.

Illegal consumption

There are only a few scenarios when consuming alcohol is actually illegal. For example, driving whilst over the alcohol limit; or for an unaccompanied under-18 to drink alcohol in a licensed premise. There may also be scenarios where there are local policies prohibiting consumption or carrying open alcohol containers in local areas or transport networks. Any encouragement of such behaviour should be avoided.

We recommend checking out our new quick read for a brief overview and referring to our full guidance document for the full detail. As always, the Advisory Service is on hand to provide a quick, free, and confidential view under our Codes, and you can reach them here or send an email to

Breaking Down Barriers by CFE Research

Breaking Down Barriers – International and UK approaches to help dependent drinkers access treatment by CFE Research.

This literature review reviews and presents in one place the existing evidence in the UK and internationally around barriers to accessing treatment and effectiveness of intervention pathways.

While it is important to note that the vast majority of the population in the UK do not exceed the Chief Medical Officers recommended lower risk guideline of 14 units or less of alcohol per week, there is a small minority of people who drink more than 35 (female) or 50 (male) units + a week, with some of these becoming dependent. This is an important addition to the bank of research that summarises the research into the existing barriers that high harm drinkers face when accessing support. It presents potential options for policymakers to consider when reviewing the support in place to help.

Key findings

Existing data demonstrates that nearly half of dependent drinkers successfully complete treatment. However, of those who would be eligible to access treatment, just 1 in 5 (18%) of dependent drinkers are in treatment.

The literature review points to five significant barriers to people accessing treatment, including:

  • stigma around alcohol misuse;
  • this cohort face interrelated complexities;
  • existing services are hard to navigate;
  • some services do not meet the needs of this cohort;
  • and potential limitations of professional capacity and resources.

Cost analysis has determined the potential that for every £1 spent on treatments for alcohol dependency there is an immediate £3 benefit, demonstrating some potential options that can support existing government funding allocation for this group.

It can be concluded from the existing research that there is no one silver bullet that will address all barriers to treatment, but a combination of the following five approaches could help to break down some of the barriers this cohort face, including:

  • digital interventions;
  • assertive outreach;
  • collocated and integrated services with multi-disciplinary teams;
  • building capacity among professionals;
  • and community, family and peer support.

CFE Research

CFE are hugely respected researchers and specialise in health and wellbeing. They have worked extensively with the public sector and other not for profit bodies including the evaluation of the Fulfilling Lives programme that explored ways to better support people experiencing multiple forms of disadvantage. They also published the evaluation of Active Ageing and Tackling Inactivity and Economic Disadvantage for Sport England and an Evaluation of the Primary Science Campaign for the Wellcome Trust.

In their own words they are: ‘Passionate about effective research and evaluation, we take a rigorous, robust approach to a range of projects. Applying our unrivalled knowhow, we deliver fast, accurate results that help you to evaluate policies and programmes and understand what works and why.”

Read the report here.

Binge drinking and alcohol related crime across the UK has fallen significantly in recent years. Alcohol-related violent crime has fallen by almost half (47%) in Britain since 2009/10 (ONS, September 2020 / Scottish Government, March 2021). Whilst binge drinking* among UK drinkers has fallen by over a quarter (29%) in the last decade (Health Survey for England, December 2022 / Scottish Health Survey, January 2021; *drinking over 6-8 units in a single session).

This is partly due to a growing number of moderate drinkers and consumers wishing to pursue healthier lifestyles, which is  to be celebrated. However, the industry has also played a key role, by funding and leading a series of initiatives devoted to helping ensure our night-time spaces are safer and that alcohol is enjoyed responsibly. In this blog, we take a deep dive look at some of these initiatives.

Best Bar None

First piloted in Manchester in 2003, Best Bar None is an awards and accreditation scheme supported by the Home Office and drinks industry. It was developed to recognise and reward responsible premises which demonstrate progress in the four areas covered the UK Licensing Act:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder.
  • Public safety.
  • Prevention of public nuisance.
  • And protection of children from harm.

The overall percentage of participating venues entering the scheme and receiving full accreditation is over 80%. Schemes have been set up in towns and cities across the UK and has proven its success by:

  • Reducing the risk of alcohol-related harm, disorder and crime.
  • Established benchmark of good practice.
  • Recognising and rewarding responsible operators.
  • Creating consistency of standards throughout the UK.
  • Creating a positive vehicle for all sectors of the night-time economy to work together in partnership.


A recent survey by Stonegate Pub Company (85% of their around 5,000 pubs are involved with a regional BBN scheme or other community safety programme) found that:

The programme continues to innovate and in 2019 BBN launched a pilot with Manchester Airport Group (MAG), encompassing Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports. MAG Group were looking to further improve standards of airside alcohol retailing  across the UK’s biggest airport group and improve the travel experience for its 60 million passengers.

Learn more about the work Best Bar None does here. For Best Bar None Scotland, click here.


National Pubwatch (NPW) is an entirely voluntary organisation set up with the aim to achieve a safe, secure and responsibly led social drinking environment in all licensed premises throughout the UK, helping to reduce alcohol-related crime.

The scheme was evaluated in 2012 by Leeds Metropolitan University. They conducted  a UK wide study of Pubwatch to see what members and other stakeholders thought about the scheme’s effectiveness. The evaluation showed that the vast majority of responding local authorities (76%), police (70%) and licensees (70%) believed that Pubwatch contributed to a safer drinking environment in the areas in which they operate. Councils (71%) and police (67%) also pointed to a decrease in anti-social behaviour in the wider localities as a result of effective schemes and closer partnership working.

To learn more about the valuable work National Pubwatch does, visit its website here.

Purple Flag

Purple Flag is a UK, Ireland and now international accreditation process run by the Association of Town and City Management (ATCM) to raise standards and broaden the appeal of town and city centres in the evening and night-time. Similar to the Blue Flag scheme for beaches, areas awarded with a Purple Flag are recognised for providing a diverse and vibrant mix of dining, entertainment and culture while promoting the safety and well-being of visitors and local residents. This means not just for pubs and clubs but for a wide range of activities including arts and culture, leisure, eating out and events.

The accreditation process takes towns and cities through a comprehensive set of standards, management processes and good practice examples all designed to help transform the evening and night-time economy and provide a research, training and development programme. Those already accredited have reported positive feedback from local businesses.

Learn more about Purple Flag and the ATCM on its website here.

Local Alcohol Partnerships Group

Even though Best Bar None, Pubwatch and Purple Flag are separate organisations, they are all devoted to a common purpose – reducing alcohol harm and making our communities safer. Collaboration is key to helping achieve this. This is why all three are members of the Local Alcohol Partnerships Group (LAPG), alongside other representatives from local partnership schemes, industry partners, regulators, government departments and alcohol advisory/concern groups. Established in 2012 by the Portman Group who ran the scheme for six years before handing over to the Institute of Licensing, LAPG objectives include:

  • Providing the basis for closer collaboration between the industry local partnership schemes, trade bodies and other stakeholders.
  • Providing a source of practical and operational expertise in licensed economy issues for operators and regulators.
  • Implementing and supporting schemes as appropriate.
  • Facilitating the sharing of good practice through attendance at events, meetings and roundtable discussions as appropriate.
  • And sharing good practice on evaluation and gather data that demonstrates the benefit of the schemes at local level.

Through the sharing of best practice, they have been able to enhance each scheme and aim to have a multiplier effect where they work in partnership in core areas of the country. It is through LAPG that the Portman Group worked with London City Hall to sign the Women’s Night Safety Charter, a voluntary initiative to improve the safety for all women in the night-time economy, that feeds into LAPG schemes.

You can learn more about LAPG here.

The Future

Since the pandemic, these schemes have had to look at how they support the night-time economy to bring people back to a safe entertainment environment. Working closely with the police they have been able to help reestablish safe practices and adapt to a new environment. Whether this is supporting the Stamping Out Spiking campaign or expanding the use of Ask for Angela (a scheme to help women who are concerned about their safety), collateral, we can anticipate that the multitude of on the ground bodies looking to reduce harms in the night-time economy will continue to adapt as society changes.

29 September 2023, London: After a successful term as the Independent Complaints Panel Chair, Nicola Williams, stands down (effective 30 September 2023) from the role to focus on her wider portfolio of work as a part-time Crown Court Judge and Penguin published author. Deputy Chair Rachel Childs will take over as interim Chair until a new Chair is formally appointed.

Nicola joined the Panel in 2020 shortly after the Sixth Edition of the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic came into force.  She has overseen the introduction and application of the amendments in the Code, including the setting of precedents with the new serious or widespread offence rule.  These cases included Quickie Wine, Original Nuttah, Fok Hing GinUnshaven Maiden and King William – which were upheld across a range of offences due to the sexualisation of women, presentation of mental health, use of profanity and overt reference to sectarianism.

Nicola has championed the development of the Panel and has overseen the hiring of five new lay Panel members. With their inclusion they now represent the most diverse Panel in its history reflecting a broad cross-section of society including experience in marketing, licensing, public health, intellectual property and youth culture.

Nicola Williams said: “I am proud of the work of the Panel which during my time has carefully and fairly made decisions on alcohol products ensuring the proper regulation of the industry. It has been important to me to ensure that there is a broad diversity of thought, and background represented on the Panel, and I leave behind a very strong Panel with wide expertise to deal with complaints. This breadth of experience has been especially important in our discussions about serious offence and has ensured that an appropriate balance has been struck in setting clear and consistent precedents. I wish the Panel and the interim Chair Rachel Childs well and I will now watch the decisions with interest.” 

In response to the announcement, Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group said: “We sincerely thank Nicola Williams for her service and work with the Independent Complaints Panel over her term as Chair. During her time, she has overseen a number of landmark, precedent setting decisions and also recruited several new members to strengthen the experience and effectiveness of the Panel.

“We have very much benefited from her insight, and we wish her continued success in her varied and impressive legal and writing career. It has been a pleasure to work with Nicola and on behalf of the Panel and Portman Group we wish her well for the future.”


Notes to editors

  1. A spokesperson is available for interviews upon request.
  2. The Portman Group was formed in 1989. It is the alcohol industry regulator and social responsibility body. It has over 160 Code signatories from producers, retailers and membership bodies.
  3. The Portman Group is funded by 19 member and associate member companies: Asahi UK Ltd; Aston Manor Cider; Bacardi; Beam Suntory; Brown-Forman; Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I; Campari; C&C; Diageo GB; Edrington UK; Heineken UK; Mark Anthony Brands International; Mast-JäegermeisterUK; Molson Coors Beverage Company; Pernod Ricard UK; Punch Pubs & Co; SHS Drinks; Thatchers’; and Treasury Wine Estates.
  4. The Code of Practice for the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks was first published in 1996. In 2021, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Code. The Code seeks to ensure that alcohol is promoted in a socially responsible way, only to those aged 18 and over, and in a way that does not appeal particularly to those who are vulnerable. The Code has helped create an industry that works effectively within the context of a self-regulatory model, while encouraging design, innovation and creativity. This has been done in an effective, responsive and inexpensive way.
  • Effectively – over 170 products have been amended or removed from the market. Many hundreds more have been helped to adhere to the Code before appearing on shelves through the support of the Advisory Service;
  • Responsively – there have been five updates to the Code over 25 years responding to changes in public attitudes and expanding its reach; all without recourse to Government or Parliamentary time;
  • Inexpensively – the leading members of the industry are currently funding the model for all to be protected at no cost to the public purse.