Treasury Wine Estates
‘‘Concerning Blossom Hill Spritz Raspberry & Blackcurrant Can 250ml.
Nowhere on the can does it show the list of ingredients. In particular it does not indicate that it contains alcohol.
A friend looked at the can and said it is alcohol free because it only says fruits on the tin. I think it contains alcohol”.
Member of the public
Under Code paragraph 3.1:
The alcoholic nature of a drink should be communicated on its packaging with absolute clarity.
The company’s submission
The company stated that Blossom Hill Spritz Raspberry and Blackcurrant 250ml Can (Blossom Hill Spritz) had been sold in its current form for over three years and had not received any complaints previously.
In response to the complainant’s claim that the product did not communicate its alcoholic nature with absolute clarity, the company stated that the product’s packaging clearly communicated its alcohol content in a range of ways. The company explained that the product included:
- the alcoholic strength by volume (ABV) on the front of pack (5.5% vol) in bright red font against a white background;
- the UK Chief Medical Officers’ daily unit drinking guidelines;
- the UK pregnancy warning symbol;
- signposting to the Drinkaware website;
- the product descriptor ‘aromatized wine-product cocktail’;
- the Blossom Hill name and logo (one of the highest selling wine brands in the UK, with 83% brand awareness); and
- the word ‘Spritz’ which featured prominently on the front of the pack and was commonly associated with fizzy alcoholic beverages (for example, Aperol Spritz and white wine spritzers).
The company stated that the phrase ‘5.5% vol’ was generally understood by consumers to refer to alcoholic content and alcoholic strength. The company also explained that the product was sold in the alcohol section of retail space, alongside other wine, which would also assist consumers in determining that the product was alcoholic.
The company then addressed Portman Group Guidance on Rule 3.1: Communicating Alcoholic Content. The company noted that the guidance made it clear that high regard would be given to whether a product complied with Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers and the Food Information Regulations 2014 in the UK. The company explained that the product complied with the law in full by displaying the ABV prominently and conspicuously in the field of vision on the front and rear label. The company stated that the product was packaged in a 250ml can, not a novel container, and that this also conveyed the alcoholic nature of the product as it was dissimilar to 330ml cans used by many soft drink brands. Finally, the company highlighted that guidance also referenced Panel consideration of positive cues and whether these outweighed negative cues when determining whether a product complied with Rule 3.1. The company reasserted the points it had made about the prominent display of the ABV, the word ‘Spritz’, the descriptor ‘aromatized wine-product cocktail’, the brand awareness of Blossom Hill, the selling point of the product and also stated that the product retailed at £2 which was higher than any standard soft drink in the UK.
The company cited previous decisions made by the Independent Complaints Panel (Panel) and evaluated these alongside the product. The company highlighted the Guinness Original 4 x 330ml Cardboard Cluster Pack final decision (13 March 2014), in which the Panel concluded that given the many positive visual cues (’alc. 4.2%’, reference to ‘stout’, signposting to the Drinkaware website and ‘Drink Responsibly’), and the absence of negative cues, the product was not in breach of Rule 3.1. The company stated that the same position applied to its product.
The company referenced the cases of Gamma Ray (19 March 2015) and Cwtch (24 October 2019) where consumers had mistaken beers in 330ml cans for soft drinks, but the Panel found no breach of Rule 3.1. The company noted the positive alcohol cues on these products and the decisions which acknowledged that the positive cues outweighed the potential negative cues of a 330ml can and use of bright colours. The company also stated that the use of raspberry and blackcurrant imagery was not targeted at under-18s but was rather a reflection of the flavours present in the wine beverage.
The company noted the Panel’s decision regarding Hoola Hooch (27 June 2018) which stated that the product packaging went above the minimal compliance level in communicating the alcoholic nature of the product and was not upheld under Rule 3.1. In comparison, the company stated that Blossom Hill Spritz featured clear positive cues with reference to ‘Spritz’ (a term commonly used to describe an alcoholic cocktail), the ABV 5.5%, the descriptor ‘aromatized wine-product cocktail’, unit content, Drinkaware reference and pregnancy warning.
The company referenced the Panel’s HappyDown decision (13 September 2018) and highlighted the Panel’s concern that the positive cues were not immediately obvious and compromised by the cumulative impact of the negative cues. In contrast, the company stated that Blossom Hill Spritz had a clear and prominent reference to ‘Spritz’ on the front of the pack in the prime field of vision, which was displayed in black text on a white background, as well as the large reference to the ABV in red font. The company also explained that the fruit and bubble graphics had far less prominence and, when considered in combination with the positive cues, distinguished it from the HappyDown case.
The company noted that the Code Secretariat had provided Desperados (13 September 2018) as a similar case. The company highlighted that the Panel did not find a breach in the case as the 250ml can size did not suggest an appeal to under-18s nor was the colour of the product deemed to be problematic. The company stated that the fruit and bubble imagery was consistent with other ready-to-drink alcohol mixes with a fruit flavoured element.
The company concluded that the product was not in breach of the Code as it clearly communicated its alcohol content in a range of ways which went well beyond the legal minimum requirements.
As part of initial discussions during the complaint process, the company stated that it would be willing to take voluntary action to amend the packaging in order to ensure a quick and constructive resolution to the complaint. However, these proposed labelling changes were provided with the caveat that the company did not agree that the product packaging was problematic under Rule 3.1.
In response to the Panel’s provisional decision, the company stated that it believed the Panel had taken a strict approach that went beyond the Portman Group’s guidance on Code Rule 3.1 and food labelling law. The company stated that there was no evidence to suggest that the average consumer would be confused by the term ‘Spritz’ and that it had a clear association as a sparkling alcoholic wine-based drink.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel discussed whether the current packaging communicated the alcoholic nature of the drink with absolute clarity. The Panel considered the overall impression conveyed by the product packaging and discussed the number of ‘positive’ alcohol cues in relation to the number of ‘negative’ alcohol cues in line with Portman Group guidance in this area.
The Panel discussed the positive alcohol cues on the packaging and noted that the ABV was displayed in large red text on a white background on the front of the can. Some members of the Panel also noted that the alcoholic nature of the product was further communicated on the back label of the product with references to unit content, Drinkaware and the Chief Medical Officers’ daily unit guidelines. The Panel also noted that that the product came in a 250ml can which was generally not synonymous with soft drink products as opposed to 330ml cans which sometimes resulted in consumer confusion.
The Panel noted that Blossom Hill was a well-known brand but was cautious about relying on a brand name to convey the alcoholic nature of a product as not all consumers would be familiar with this. The Panel stated that any product which seeks to solely rely on its brand name to convey its alcoholic nature is likely to breach the Code.
The Panel noted that while there were some positive cues on the packaging, there were also negative cues. The Panel considered the imagery on the product and the dominant images of fruit on the front label. The Panel discussed the language used on the back of the can to describe the product and agreed that ‘fresh and lush aromas of summer berries lead to a refreshing taste palate, with raspberry, blackcurrant and strawberry hints. Light tasting and bubbly, created for your enjoyment’ further contributed to a sense of confusion when determining whether the product was alcoholic. Some Panel members stated that the launch of alcohol-free products, which used similar imagery and language, meant that some consumers could be confused by the product and that it needed to work harder to emphasise its alcoholic nature.
The Panel then discussed the descriptor ‘Spritz’ used on the front of the packaging. The Panel considered that while some consumers would link the word ‘Spritz’ to an alcoholic drink, some may not be aware of this link. Some members of the Panel noted that the word ‘Spritz’ could also be linked to non-alcoholic carbonated drinks. The Panel therefore considered that it could be difficult for a consumer to ascertain the alcoholic nature of the product at first glance due to uncertainty regarding the meaning of ‘Spritz’ as a descriptor. The Panel discussed the company’s provisional decision response which stated that it had not seen any evidence to suggest there was consumer uncertainty regarding the meaning of ’Spritz’ or its link to non-alcoholic carbonated drinks. The Panel noted that the company had not provided evidence to demonstrate that the term ‘Spritz’ was recognised by consumers as a positive cue when assessing whether a product was alcoholic. The Panel stated that the term ‘Spritz’ was used as a common vernacular across sparkling drinks, including both alcoholic and non-alcoholic sparkling drinks.. Given the lack of evidence to support the assertion that ‘Spritz’ was recognised as primarily an alcoholic sparkling drink by consumers, and the fact that some Panel members believed the term was not recognisable as a descriptor solely used on alcoholic drinks, he Panel remained of the view that the term contributed to the unclear alcoholic nature of the product.
The Panel debated at length the overall impression conveyed by the product and considered the product as a whole. The Panel agreed that there was no distinction between the front and back of a product when assessing whether the alcoholic nature had been communicated with absolute clarity. The Panel noted that a product may be problematic under Rule 3.1 if it is likely to cause consumer confusion as to its alcoholic nature. On this occasion, the Panel considered that the cumulative effect of the negative alcohol cues and lack of clarity on the front of the product did cause confusion as to whether the product was alcoholic, and the Panel accordingly upheld the product under Code Rule 3.1.
The Panel welcomed the producer’s proposed amendments to the product packaging and encouraged the company to work with the Portman Group’s Advisory Service when implementing any changes.
Action by Company:
Amending product label.