The Portman Group’s latest survey, conducted by YouGov in 2023, marks a pivotal shift towards low and no alcohol consumption across the UK. As the market for these alternatives expands, understanding consumer motivations, behaviours, and preferences becomes crucial for stakeholders across the spectrum.

Key Findings

  • Widespread adoption: 64% of UK adults have now tried low or no alcohol products, up from 59% in our 2020 survey, indicating a broadening consumer base. This includes 75% of alcohol drinkers, compared to only 33% of non-drinkers.

  • Increased consumption: There’s a notable increase in semi-regular consumption, up to 35% of UK drinkers from 25% in 2020, highlighting growing consumer acceptance and regular inclusion in lifestyle choices.

Aiding moderation: 23% of current alcohol drinkers in the UK report reducing their alcohol consumption due to low and no alcohol alternatives.

Important tools for harm reduction

For the sixth year in a row, the most cited reasons for why customers choose low and no alcohol are being able to drive home and not drinking excessively at social events – highlighting how these products are important tools to tackle harms such as drink driving and binge drinking. Collectively minimising health concerns or current medical reasons was also cited by a large proportion of respondents, highlighting a move towards a more health-conscious society. The desire for social inclusion without the effects of alcohol, coupled with an increasing focus on responsible drinking and moderation are also fuelling the drive towards products which facilitate low-alcohol or alcohol-free drinking.

Generation Sober-Curious

Young adults lead the charge in embracing low and no alcohol options, an inclination that suggests a generational shift in attitudes towards alcohol – a phenomenon that has been dubbed as ‘Generation sober-curious’. Almost half of respondents ages 18-24 said they drank semi-regularly (44%), up 91% from 2020 (23%). However, our results also show a significant increase in regular or occasional use across all age groups since 2020.

Brand-share as the key entry point

As the market matures, the diversity and availability of low and no alcohol alternative products are expected to grow, further embedding these choices into mainstream consumption habits. Most notably, brand-shared low and no alcohol versions of popular alcoholic beverages serve as a significant entry point, underscoring the importance of brand familiarity in consumer choices, and signifying how the evolution of consumer preferences is being both reflected by the industry.

When and where the public drink alcohol alternatives

Pubs and bars remain the most popular locale for low and no drinking habits, with over a third of respondents choosing to opt for alcohol alternatives when visiting these establishments.

Alcohol alternatives also appear to be popular within social contexts, with 31% of alcohol alternative drinkers saying they drink them at home socially with friends or family, followed by 23% drinking them out at a friend or family member’s house.

Low and no drinkers are also most likely to favour these products when alternating with alcoholic drinks. The second most cited response was on ‘drink free’ days during the week – highlighting that these products are not just for periods of abstinence such as Dry January but all year round.

Facilitating a move to mindful consumption?

The findings here suggest that low and no alcohol alternatives are facilitating a distinct movement towards mindful consumption within the UK’s drinking culture.

Our survey illustrates that increasingly health-conscious consumers are saying that these products have helped them cut back their alcohol consumption as well as avoid harms such as binge drinking and drink driving when out – feeding into the Government and industry’s shared goal to promote a moderate and responsible relationship with alcohol across the UK.

Our research also suggests that low and no drinkers continue to favour drinking these products socially and in hospitality settings such as pubs and bars emphasising the importance of increasing the availability of low and no options wherever an alcoholic product appears on sale.

We welcome producers, retailers, pubs and the wider hospitality industry continuing to work together to increase choice, availability and visibility of alternatives, as well as initiatives such as instore tastings to help consumers overcome outdated taste prejudices.



Tis the season of festivity, and most people are looking forward to enjoying time with family and friends getting in the holiday spirit. The winter season can be a great way to engage with consumers and has become a focal point in the marketing calendar. It is important to remember though, that even during the holiday season, alcohol marketing needs to be compliant with our Codes.

The Advisory Service often sees winter holiday specific marketing and promotions which fall on the wrong side of the line – so we’ve compiled a list of the main issues that tend to arise.

Particular Appeal to under-18s

It is the view of the Advisory Service that Christmas and other winter holiday celebrations have a ubiquitous appeal to all ages. However, some familiar characters are likely to resonate with children, in a way they won’t with adults, so including them in alcohol marketing can mean that it crosses the line of acceptability. Festive elements such as Christmas trees, baubles, presents and food all tend to be acceptable (depending on depiction of course) because these are elements of the season which resonate with consumers of all ages.

However, character such as Santa Claus or Rudolph for example, are riskier inclusions in marketing because both characters feature prominently in media targeted at children. Films, stories and Christmas carols all consumed by children tend to have these characters as a main focus, and for many children a visit from Santa and his sleigh are a highlight of the season. While adults may enjoy this media, the test of Code rule 3.2(h) is not one of quantity but rather whether an element is likely to have a particular appeal to children. It is the view of the Advisory Service therefore that such characters are likely to have a particular appeal to under-18s and should be avoided.

It is not just inclusion of characters which can cause issues, as the overall impression conveyed by marketing will ultimately determine compliance. Artwork, colours, and flavours can all inadvertently cause a drink to have a particular appeal to under-18s and that is something that should be considered when creating a festive drink, particularly for the on-trade. Our guidance has recently been updated to help the industry comply with Code rule 3.2(h) and can be read here.

Irresponsible or immoderate consumption

The Code does not only apply to the naming and packaging of alcohol drinks, but to promotional materials and activities as well – in both the off-trade and the on-trade. While many consumers will be thankful for a bargain this year, it’s important to consider whether a promotional offer could encourage immoderate or irresponsible consumption. For example, discounted time-sensitive promotions are unlikely to be acceptable under the Code. This is because the nature of the promotion indirectly encourages immoderate consumption as a consumer may buy, and therefore consume, more than they otherwise would have done to maximise savings.

Similarly, encouraging consumers to indulge in excess drinking because it is the holiday season is unlikely to be okay, even if the promotion is intended to be humorous or tongue in cheek. Phrases like ‘get drinking – its Christmas’ or ‘tis the season to get wasted’ are both unlikely to be okay under the Code. Producers should be mindful that marketing should not encourage consumers to drink immoderately or irresponsibly.

Social Success and change in mood or behaviour

We see a lot of alcohol marketing over the holiday period which can highlight a drink’s premium qualities thereby making it an ideal choice for a special occasion. While there is nothing wrong with suggesting that a premium drink is ideal for a special occasion, or presenting alcohol as a legitimate accompaniment to socialising, care needs to be taken that it does not suggest it is integral to social success.

Phrases such as ‘get the party started with X’ or ‘Take your holiday season to the next level with X’ are unlikely to be acceptable because of the suggestion that the alcohol is elevating a social occasion or making it more fun than it would have been otherwise.

Equally, suggestions that alcohol can relax a consumer, help them to forget the stress that the holiday season can bring or generally put them in a festive mood are all likely to be unacceptable. Again, this is because there is a suggestion that a consumer’s mood or behaviour has changed on the basis of consuming alcohol.

We know that there is a lot to think about during the holiday season, so the Advisory Service as always is on hand to help. Contact us for a free, quick, confidential view here.



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

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.

For over a decade there have been considerable falls in levels of underage drinking across the UK. Since 2002, weekly underage drinking in Wales¹ has declined by 80%, whilst in England² there has been a 64% fall between 2004 and 2021*. In Scotland³, the decline has been 58% since 2004 and in Northern Ireland⁴ we’ve seen a 50% fall in those who have ever tried alcohol since 2000.

While the alcohol sector would certainly never seek to claim sole credit for these falls in underage drinking, it is also the case that there have been numerous industry-funded and led initiatives that have helped to drive these downward trends. Reflecting on decades of innovation, regulation and partnerships across the industry, we take a look at some of these initiatives and the work carried across the UK to help tackle underage drinking.

Challenge 25

Whether in store or online, retailers are committed to promoting the responsible retail of alcohol and to ensure that they do not sell alcohol to under-18s. The Retail of Alcohol Standards Group (RASG) is a panel of the leading retailers in the UK who offer practical advice and develop guidance and best practice to aid, encourage and facilitate retailers to sell alcohol is a responsible way.

RASG’s most significant achievement has been the development and nationwide roll out of the Challenge 25 initiative which you will probably have seen in stores. It is a retailing strategy that encourages anyone who is over 18, but looks under 25 to carry acceptable ID if they wish to buy alcohol. Challenge 25 is more than a proof of age scheme; it demonstrates important cultural changes in organisations that adopt it. Staff are trained to ask anyone who looks under 25 to present an acceptable form of ID (a card bearing the PASS hologram, a photographic driving license or a passport) and managers are trained to support staff and not to overrule them. There is huge rigor in challenging people up to 25, rather than simply over 18, and this has entirely changed the sales environment.

In 2021, due to growing demand, RASG issued free guidance to support online alcohol retailers and build best practice within their own organisation. This has helped them to remain compliant when selling online, no matter their business model, size or resources. This was updated in 2022, with the new guidance available here.

Community Alcohol Partnerships

A hugely effective grassroots initiative has been Community Alcohol Partnerships (CAPs). They bring together and support local partnerships of councils, police, retailers, schools, health providers and community groups across the UK to reduce alcohol harm among young people, improve their health and wellbeing, and enhance their communities. To date, over 250 CAPs have launched across the UK, with many more planned and being developed.

For CAPs that collected comparable baseline and post intervention data the following changes were found:

You can learn more about CAPs in our blog here.

Scottish Alcohol Industry Partnership

The Scottish Alcohol Industry Partnership (SAIP) is a vehicle for industry partners to work together to support, devise and deliver initiatives that contribute towards the promotion of responsible drinking and tackle alcohol-related harm in Scotland.

In Summer 2022, SAIP, together with Police Scotland and local authorities, launched a nationwide proxy purchase campaign in Scotland under the strapline of ‘It’ll cost you’. General feedback from Police Scotland and Police Scotland Youth Volunteers was that the campaign was well received by retailers and the public. It underpinned the partnership working between the retail trade and police. The campaign was relaunched in June 2023 and will run until August 2023.

Regulation – Advertising Standards Authority

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK’s independent advertising regulator. It has administered the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (written and maintained by the Committee of Advertising Practice) for over 60 years and the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (written and maintained by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice) for 18 years.

These Codes include rules to protect people who are vulnerable, including children (which the Codes define as those aged 15 and under) and young people (those aged 16 and 17). They include rules on the scheduling and placement of adverts to ensure that under-18’s exposure to alcohol advertisements is appropriately limited. The rules prohibit these ads from appearing in children’s and young people’s media and, where they appear in media targeting a predominantly adult audience, the content is restricted to ensure that they cannot appeal particularly to those under the age of 18.

Since 2019, the ASA has reported annually on children’s exposure to age-restricted TV ads, including alcohol products, at the UK level. In its most recent analysis, it found that between 2010 and 2021, children’s exposure to alcohol advertising on TV decreased by three quarters, from an average of 3.2 ads per week in 2010 to 0.8 ads per week in 2021. The average number of alcohol ads children saw in 2021 (0.8 per week) reached the lowest level in the 12-year period covered (ASA, May 2022).

Regulation – Portman Group

For over 25 years, our Code of Practice for the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks has sought 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. It is backed by over 160 Code Signatories, which includes all the leading retailers in the UK.

Thanks to the Code, 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.

In addition to the Code rules, we provide guidance on their application. We also look at market trends and provide guidance on how to responsibly present alcohol products, marketing, and promotions.

In March 2019, we published a blog on sampling to respond to online sales. Promoters should only offer samples to people who are over the age of 18, and if in doubt ask for proof of age (driving licence, passport, or PASS-accredited proof of age card). If proof of age cannot be supplied, and companies have any doubts as to whether the person is over 18, then they should politely refuse to offer them a sample.

The Future

Looking to the future there is always more work to be done. 71% of regular drinkers aged 11-15 obtain alcohol from their parents in England⁵ so there is important work to be done to educate parents to understand the Chief Medical Officer’s advice that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option. This is the next challenge and should help to further drive down the number of under-18s drinking.

Foot notes

¹ Health Behaviour in School-aged Children and 2018 survey, May 2019

² NHS Digital, September 2022

³ Scottish Government, November 2019

NI Young Persons Behaviour & Attitudes Survey, September 2020

Community Alcohol Partnerships, 2023

*remained at 6% since 2016 under new methodology


Kids Industries is a specialist award winning research and marketing agency focused on the children’s and family market. We work with the largest brands in the world including Kellogg’s, McDonalds and the BBC, and we have supported the marketing of Bing, Bluey, Pokémon and Star Wars amongst many others.

The Portman Group and Independent Complaints Panel recently commissioned us to undertake research on broad marketing techniques that are used to appeal to children and teenagers outside of alcohol marketing. The research and training are designed to assist the Independent Complaints Panel with its rulings in relation to the Code of Practice – in particular the application of the rule that alcohol is promoted in a socially responsible way that does not have particular appeal to under-18s.

In my role as a strategist at Kids Industries I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to make products, services and advertising which will appeal to children. But what constitutes appealing marketing to children isn’t a straightforward question.

There is a tendency for some companies to view under 18s as a homogenous group who have similar needs and motivations. The reality is, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Crammed into the age range 0-18 are 9 developmental stages which shape the sorts of marketing that children will or won’t respond to. It’s only by understanding the nuances of these developmental stages that we can create effective marketing campaigns that will resonate with young people.

Determining what type of marketing is particularly appealing to children is therefore a challenge when there are such differences in how children react to advertising depending on their developmental stage.

The majority of the rulings made by the Independent Complaints Panel in relation to the suitability of alcohol marketing, focus on packaging. Whilst it isn’t possible to generalise about the type of packaging that will potentially attract an under 18 year old, we can develop a set of principles based on products and packaging that are designed to appeal to young children:


  1. Colour & clarity: young children – under the age of 7 – pay little attention to verbal messages, it’s the visuals that matter. They tend to be most attracted to bright primary or secondary colours. Bright colours are particularly stimulating to their developing brains and easier to perceive. But it’s not all about colour – contrast in luminance is as important to attract a child’s attention.
  2. Character: characters on child-targeted food packaging have strong appeal for children and tend to demonstrate certain consistencies. More often than not they are cartoon-like e.g. animals or anthropomorphised foods. To adult eyes they seem exaggerated with oversized features (eyes, smiles, cheeks) but to children’s developing brains this exaggeration is appealing. It’s also noticeable that all characters are approachable (no jagged teeth, no hard corners) – fulfilling the safety that children and parents alike desire.
  3. Brand Licensing: strongly connected to character is the power of brand licensing to drive children to want certain products. Any parent knows that entertainment characters are a sure fire way to get children to engage with certain items, from Peppa Pig raisins to Minions yoghurt drinks.
  4. Name & Logo: from Frubes to Munch Bunch, brand logos aimed at children tend to embody simplicity, play, bright primary text, chunky font, high contrast or a thick outline. These elements in combination attract children’s attention.
  5. Collectability: collectables are perennially popular with kids from trading card games (Pokémon) to football sticker sets and toys / dolls like Barbie and Hatchimals. They are frequently leveraged by FMCG companies looking to attract children and drive repeat purchase. YoYoBear – the fruit based snack with collectable cards – is a prime example of this. The cards have proved hugely popular, with some even commanding significant sums on eBay.
  6. Flavour: children have a genetic predisposition towards sugary / sweet and salty foods and flavours. They initially reject sour and bitter tastes.

Of course, the aim for alcohol producers it to avoid their products and marketing having a particular appeal to under-18s. As a guide, we’d recommend  looking at these six elements in conjunction with each other to assess the appeal of a particular product or piece of marketing to children alongside the Portman Group’s guidance on particular appeal to under-18s.

The Portman Group always seeks to showcase and highlight the many examples of social responsibility within the alcohol and wider hospitality industry. In this blog, we invited the Drinks Trust to explain and demonstrate the valuable work they do for the sector’s most important asset – its workers.


The Drinks Trust is the charity dedicated to the drinks and hospitality workforce. It strives to empower our industry through services designed to assist financially, restore well-being and develop skills, and do so with compassion and respect. In doing so, The Drinks Trust seeks to create an equitable industry where opportunities to thrive are open to all.

Over the years, especially since the Covid pandemic hit, we have expanded our services to meet the industry’s ever-evolving needs. Today, we offer a wide range of resources, including hardship grants, mentorship, guidance from licensed therapists, advice on mindful drinking, and more. Ultimately, we aim to provide comprehensive support: emotional, financial, practical, and vocational to meet the needs of our industry’s workforce; our community.

Since Covid hit, The Drinks Trust has helped fivefold more beneficiaries than before the pandemic (around 5,000 people a year).

Restore – well-being services

The Drinks Trust’s Restore service strives to equip the people of the drinks industry with tools and resources for healthy living in both mind and body. Our 24/7 confidential helpline sits at the heart of our wellness services, allowing us to connect individuals seeking help with professional insight. Each call is answered by a qualified counsellor who can give in-the-moment guidance and referrals to additional forms of support, from further one-to-one counselling sessions to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), treatment for sleep and insomnia, and mindful drinking courses. To find out more about Restore:

Assistfinancial support

Financial hardship and debt pressure can impact every aspect of life, including mental health and family relationships. That’s why we offer financial assistance to trade members who have fallen on hard times. Our Assist services provide hardship grants to people meeting our financial criteria, helping with costs such as household bills and funding purchases of food, home equipment, and more. Through The Drinks Trust Helpline, we are also able to connect those in need of financial advice with debt specialists. To find out more about Assist:

Develop, Education and Training

With the drinks and hospitality industry facing a significant lack of skilled staff in the wake of Brexit and the pandemic, building our industry’s workforce is more crucial than ever. The Develop programme will bring new talent to the trade while helping people out of long-term hardship. Officially launched in 2022, Develop offers individuals educational opportunities, resources, and bursaries to enter the industry or learn new skills to grow their careers. We work with carefully selected providers and brand partners to deliver a variety of training options, from generalist workshops covering skills such as CV writing, to specialist courses in bartending, brewing, distillation, and more. In the first year of operations, Develop trained 1,000 individuals. To find out more about Develop:

The Drinks Community

The Drinks Community is the only dedicated digital platform for people in the drinks hospitality industry to network, share ideas, and upskill. Our free-to-join interactive space allows members to take part in industry-specific conversations, seek and provide mentorship, and tap into expert resources. Through the Drinks Community, we also run in-person events for professional development and networking, connecting the trade both online and off. To find out more about Drinks Community:

Equal Measures

The Drinks Trust is the official delivery partner of Equal Measures, an initiative focused on fostering greater equity in the drinks trade. Equal Measures provides education and mentorship for individuals from minority ethnicities and other marginalised backgrounds, giving participants the tools to build long-term careers in the industry. The initiative also empowers

businesses to re-evaluate their internal practices and prioritise diversity and inclusion in their workplaces. To find out more about Equal Measures:

Contact us today to find out more about our services, become a partner, join our events, and more.

Helpline: 0800 9154610

While it’s unlikely that you will start any marketing campaign with the intent to cause serious offence, it’s important to consider how words, phrases and images may be understood by some consumers. Often, we notice a clash between a brand’s ideas of humour and how a group may consider the marketing. This blog aims to address the top three areas which can end up causing serious or widespread offence.

The flexibility and efficiency of the self-regulatory model allows us to regularly review the Code to ensure it is fit for purpose and reflects changing standards in society. In 2019 we launched the sixth edition of the Code of Practice, after requests from the sector we introduced a new Code rule which states that alcohol marketing should not cause serious or widespread offence. Since then, the Independent Complaints Panel (Panel) has considered seven products under this Code rule – read on to find out the top three issues have occurred, and how you can avoid unintentionally causing serious or widespread offence.

1 – Objectification    

It’s important that alcohol marketing doesn’t objectify or sexualise a person. The Panel has considered and upheld a few complaints regarding drinks which have sexualised and objectified individuals such as Quickie Wine and Unshaven Maiden. When considering the depiction of individuals in your own marketing, you should take care that there is no undue focus on certain parts of their bodies, that they are not positioned in a sexualised manner, and do not reinforce demeaning stereotypes.

2 – Mental health

It’s vital that alcohol marketing does not denigrate or derogatorily depict mental health. The Panel recently considered a case regarding Four Loko, in terms of whether the name ‘loko’, phonetically similar to ‘loco’ (which translates to crazy in English), could cause serious offence. In that case, the Panel noted that ‘crazy’ and ‘loco’ could be used to describe objects or experiences and was not inherently associated as being a phrase directed at a person. In another recent case, the Panel considered the phrase ‘Nutter’ as part of a decision on Original Nuttah. The Panel concluded that ‘nutter’ was primarily used to refer to someone with mental health issues in a derogatory way. The Panel therefore concluded the name would be seriously offensive to some consumers and the complaint was upheld. In the case of mental health the significance of words and phrases can be more impactful . Marketing that is deemed to be derogatory, or demeaning will not be acceptable under the Code.

3 – Swearing and offensive language

It’s important to remember that offensive language and expletives can also cause serious offence.

In a recent case regarding Fok Hing Gin, the Panel found that the phonetic similarity to a seriously offensive expletive, in combination with the wider marketing of the product where the name was used in such a way that was clearly alluding to profanity, caused serious offence.

Further information

We understand that sometimes drawing the line between distasteful marketing, and something that can cause serious or widespread offence can be tricky. That is why we have created more in depth guidance here. If you are ever in doubt do contact the Advisory Service for a free confidential view here.