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Producer: Hammerton Brewery in collaboration with Brew By Numbers

Final Decision: 16 July 2020

Considered under the 6th Edition of the Code.

Complaint summary:

“I wish to express concern about the naming and packaging of Hammerton Brewery’s beer, ‘Buoyancy Aid’.

My main concern is that the name could be misconstrued as doing exactly what it says on the tin, and suggest it is an aid to swimming after consumption. This is against 3.2j in the Portman Group Code of Practice – to suggest that the product can enhance physical capabilities. The name could also be seen as saying that it’s ok to swim whilst drunk, which is against 3.2b of the Code of Practice – association with a dangerous activity, ie swimming whilst drunk.

My secondary concern is that the packaging graphics also show very prominently the sea, with anthropomorphic cartoon fruits swimming in it. Again I think this is against point 3.2b of the Code of Practice (suggesting a link between swimming and drinking). I also think the cartoon fruits are against point 3.2h of the code, as the bright and colourful fruit characters look to have an appeal to under 18s. The characters are not out-of-keeping with the sort of angry or shocked characters used on various modern-day sour sweets packets sold to children.

I understand the product’s references to the ocean may be to try and champion the beer’s unusual sea-salt ingredient, however I think a potentially dangerous route has inadvertently been chosen to do this.”

Complainant:

Member of the public

Decision:

Under Code paragraph 3.1:

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

 NOT UPHELD

Under Code paragraph 3.2(b):

3.2(b) A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way suggest any association with bravado, or with violent, aggressive, dangerous, anti-social or illegal behaviour

NOT UPHELD

Under Code paragraph 3.2(h):

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

NOT UPHELD

Under Code paragraph 3.2(j):

3.2(j)  A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way suggest that the product has therapeutic qualities, can enhance mental or physical capabilities, or change mood or behaviour.

NOT UPHELD

The company’s submission

The company firstly explained that Hammerton Brewery was taking the lead responding to this case.

The company stated they had never received a complaint from consumers or regulators, nor had any retailer suggested the packaging appealed to under-18s or gave physical capabilities.

The company explained the name of the beer; it originated from Guava and Soursop (fruits used within the brewing) which both float, and the sea on the label symbolised the sea salt used. The company highlighted the lack of references which stated the product would help consumers to swim, enhance physical qualities, or implied it was fine to swim while inebriated.

The company stated the beer was only sold in specialist beer shops and online retailers, who have strict codes and procedures to prevent sales to under-18s. The company explained that nobody who saw it would believe the product helped your swim or promoted drinking and swimming.

The company highlighted that the product clearly stated the alcoholic percentage, that it was brewed and listed the ingredients.

The company addressed the complaint that the fruit appealed to under-18s; they stated the illustration showed the exotic ingredients and was not designed to appeal to children.

The company quoted from the ICP decisions for Gamma Ray and Neck Oil:

“…importance on the levels of luminance and contrast between the colours. The panel concluded that the contrast between the colours were not strong and therefore on a basis of colour, the packaging would not have a particular appeal to under 18s.”

The company argued the same reasoning should be applied to Buoyancy Aid on the basis of colour.

The company stated the floating exotic fruits and text in no way implied enhancement of physical abilities or endorsed drinking while swimming.

The company listed cues which communicated that the product contained alcohol:

  • Prominent use of alcohol content on front and back of the can
  • Number of UK Alcohol units in a way approved by Campden BRI’s packaging check service
  • BEER written in numerous different languages on label
  • Ingredients shown i.e. malt, barley, hops, wheat, yeast all ingredients commonly known for creating beer
  • Pregnancy consumption advisory logo
  • Brewed words on the front of the label
  • Hammerton Brewery name and website on numerous parts of the packaging

The company noted the Panel had not upheld complaints about Gamma Ray because the alcoholic content was clear, and recognised packaging which had come to define the craft beer category.  The company argued that UK consumers recognised the style as distinctively associated with craft beer, and not appealing to under-18s.

The company concluded that the high cost, £5 per unit (due to cost of ingredients), made it particularly unappealing to under-18s.

The Panel’s assessment

The Panel firstly discussed Code Rule 3.1, which was raised by the Panel.

The Panel expressed concerns that the front of the can was very busy, and the descriptor ‘Soursop and Guava Gose 4.2%’ was not widely understood by the average consumer. However, they concluded that the line ‘brewed to our resolution’ on the front of the can and the information on the back of the can did mean the alcoholic nature was conveyed with clarity. The Panel agreed the producer could do more to ensure the information was displayed more clearly on the front on the can but taking the product in its entirety they did not believe the product breached Code Rule 3.1.

The Panel then moved to Code Rule 3.2(b), specifically the complainant’s concern about a connection between the product’s label and swimming while consuming alcohol. The Panel emphasised that making a connection between drinking alcohol and swimming was inappropriate, but they did not believe that this connection was made on Buoyancy Aid’s packaging. The Panel noted that ‘Buoyancy Aid’ was a noun and not an encouragement to swim and considered that the product was not making the connection between drinking and swimming. The Panel also considered that the berries were not anthropomorphised with arms and legs and appeared to be floating more than swimming. The Panel therefore concluded there was no breach under Code Rule 3.2(b).

The Panel then discussed the complaint under Code Rule 3.2(h). The Panel considered that the muted nature of the colours and the non-anthropomorphic fruits did not have particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel also noted the size of the can was 440ml, a widely perceived as a container size for alcoholic products and a cue it was not a soft drink for children. The Panel looked at the product in detail and noted some more expressive characters, particularly the grumpy looking berry by the name of the product and the berry sticking out its tongue on the back. However, the Panel did not believe this was strong enough to constitute particular appeal to under-18s and therefore did not uphold under 3.2(h).

Finally, the Panel discussed Code Rule 3.2(j). The Panel was clear that they did not believe the product was suggesting it gave the consumer the ability to float better and they did not think consumers would interpret in that way. They discussed whether the product name implied that it buoyed up the mood of the consumer, but noted the images and branding did not promote that interpretation.  Having taken the overall impression into account, the Panel considered that the product did not imply that it would change the consumer’s mood or behaviour. The Panel concluded Buoyancy Aid did not breach 3.2(j).

Action by Company:

None required