Speaking about the ONS report on alcohol-specific deaths, Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK commented:

“The ONS figures are tragic and highlight the devastating impact the past year has had on those drinking at the most harmful rates. The reasons for this are complex and likely exacerbated by pandemic restrictions which may have cut off social and professional support or deterred people from seeking help in the first instance. We call for increased targeted support for those struggling with their relationship with alcohol to ensure that the effects of this year are not compounded in the future.”

Leading the way on CBD – Portman Group issues first category guidance on CBD

The Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, has released new guidance on the naming, packaging and promotion of alcohol products containing CBD.

Infusing alcohol products with CBD, and the rise in popularity of CBD more broadly, is a relatively new trend. While the uses and benefits of CBD are debated, the Portman Group’s Advisory Service has issued guidance in relation to the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks. The guidance is designed to aid producers in complying with the Code, should they choose to produce a CBD-infused product.

The law on the use of CBD in food and drink products is complex and the Portman Group does not imply that the inclusion of CBD in alcoholic drinks is legally permitted.  We urge producers to seek legal advice before placing products containing CBD on the market.

The guidance is intended to highlight elements producers should be aware of when marketing products in this category. It specifically pertains to Rules 3.2 (c) and (j) – association with illicit drugs and suggestion of therapeutic qualities, respectively.

The guidance stipulates that producers should avoid wording and imagery which alludes to any association with Cannabis or other illicit drugs. It also underscores the need to avoid

health and wellness claims. Factual references to CBD are acceptable, particularly when it comes to listing it as an ingredient, however CBD should not be used as a prominent product descriptor. The full guidance can be accessed here.

Speaking about the guidance, Portman Group CEO, Matt Lambert commented: “CBD is becoming an increasingly popular ingredient, and its use in alcohol products is no exception to this trend. We have responded quickly to this change in the market by issuing category guidance.

“This guidance will be crucial in helping producers understand how they may use CBD innovatively and creatively while still complying with the Code.”

Our Advisory Service offers a free, confidential, and impartial service where producers can seek advice on how the Codes of Practice apply to their products and promotions and discuss possible improvements if necessary.

The Code is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year; the publication of this guidance demonstrates the flexibility of the Code and the ease with which it is adapted to fit the ever-changing market. This year, the first complaint against a CBD product was taken to the Independent Complaints Panel. The complaint, against Colorado High, a CBD-infused gin, was upheld. The Panel noted that the overall impression of the product contravened rules by suggesting therapeutic benefits and creating an association with illicit drugs. A Retailer Alert Bulletin was issued, instructing retailers to cease stocking this product. In response to the complaint, and CBD’s growing popularity, the Advisory Service swiftly issued this guidance.

Brits return to the pub – but it’s for pals not pints

The Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, has revealed in new research published today that more than two-thirds (68%) of Brits who are planning on visiting pubs when they reopen, say the reason they are most looking forward to the reopening of pubs is to reunite with friends and family, rather than purchasing food and drink they cannot get at home – such as a nice cold pint.

The second most cited reason for returning to the pub is to regain a sense of normality (57%).

Many of us are planning a cautious return to the pubs as hospitality gradually opens across the UK, including from 12 April in England. While 50% of former UK pubgoers said they intended to visit the pub with the same frequency as before, almost one in four (22%) said they would be visiting less. Only 14% of former UK pubgoers said they planned to visit the pub more often once restrictions were lifted. Almost three in four (71%) of UK drinkers intend to drink the same when pubs reopen with 15% saying they plan to drink less than they did before the pandemic. This punctures any suggestion of an increase in binge drinking in what many have referred to as a second ‘roaring Twenties’.

Throughout the lockdowns, a narrative has persisted that Brits turned to the bottle, with a majority (69%) of UK adults incorrectly believing that the UK population has increased its alcohol consumption over the last year, and only 6% believing we drank less. However, this research shows that the majority (78%) either do not drink, or drink within the Chief Medical Officer lower-risk drinking guidelines (i.e. up to 14 units), and that around three-quarters (73%) of UK drinkers say they are drinking the same or less compared to before the pandemic. In fact, close to one in three (32%) said they have reduced their drinking over the course of the pandemic. These findings align with much of the research completed during the pandemic which shows that most UK adults have continued to drink moderately and responsibly.

Speaking about the research, Portman Group CEO, Matt Lambert, commented: “The reopening of hospitality is an important step towards normality. The alcohol industry is proud to play an important role in this, and we look forward to seeing loved ones reconnect over a drink while supporting their local. As people look forward to getting together with friends and family, we are confident they will continue to drink responsibly. Our research shows the moderate majority have done so throughout the pandemic.


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2303 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 31st March – 1st April 2021.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

Protecting pubs, supporting communities and 1.3m litres of hand sanitiser – the drink sector responds to COVID-19

An industry report from the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, with case studies from across the sector, highlights collective efforts to support communities over lockdown.

Drinks companies offered financial assistance to bartenders and other workers whose livelihoods had been impacted by the lockdown, including a ‘virtual tip jar’ and a ‘lost shift’ competition. The Drinks Trust provided direct frontline support to sector workers including well-being seminars and a 24-hour helpline staffed by clinically trained psychologists.

Despite lockdown leading to more people drinking at home, an analysis of 31 polls found 3 in 4 [77%] of UK adults drink drank the same or less than they did before the lockdown started in February 20201. The lockdown saw an acceleration in people buying more expensive drinks, 70% of premium brands grew their market share compared to 2019. (Kantar 2020) There was also a 30% increase in the supermarket sales of low and no alcohol drinks. (Nielsen 2020)

Commenting on the publication of the report, Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, said:

“It’s been a terrible year for the hospitality sector. Yet from the smallest pub on the corner to the largest producer we all rolled up our sleeves and did our bit to help our communities during the pandemic.

“It is also encouraging to see a significant majority of people continued to drink responsibly during the lockdown. Consumers turned to buying more low alcohol products and higher premium drinks accelerating trends already present in the market.”

The report comes as a cross-sector review and includes casestudies from social enterprises like ClubSoda, charities such as Drinkaware, and member bodies such as the Scotch Whisky Association, British Beer and Pub Association and the Campaign for Real Ale.

For more information, please visit: https://www.portmangroup/covid-19

Cheers to 25 Years of Compliance – New Portman Group report shows alcohol sector support and adherence to self-regulation

Kicking off the 25th anniversary of its Code of Practice, The Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, publishes a new report today. It is cause for celebration as the industry demonstrates its commitment to responsibility through its support for the work of the Portman Group.

The report, which looks at the period 2018 – 2020, showcases an impressive 95% compliance to the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks, an increase from 92% in 2012, and details the organisation’s activities during the last three years of effective regulation of the alcohol industry. The report also covers the development of the Sixth edition of the Code that, importantly, includes details on updated guidance and new rules covering the explicit protection of the vulnerable and prevention of serious or widespread offence.

The Portman Group CEO Matt Lambert said: “This shows a strong record of effective regulatory performance over the past three years. The industry’s high level of compliance with our ever-evolving code enables us to fly the flag for a responsible alcohol industry with the public and the Government.  At a time when politicians in neighbouring nations are increasingly turning their attention to introducing statutory restrictions on alcohol marketing, the sector’s support and adherence to the Code helps us safe-guard effective and appropriate self-regulation for the sector.”

During the three-year period, the Portman Group has also welcomed a new Independent Complaints Panel Chair and audited the market’s adherence to the rules.

The Panel reviewed 43 complaints with 25 upheld. The rule  under which most complaints were brought was ‘particular appeal to under-18s (3.2 h)’. Eight of the 25 complaints brought under this rule were upheld, representing58% of the Panel’s decisions.  Complaints concerning ‘association bravado, or with violent, aggressive, dangerous, anti-social or illegal behaviour (3.2 b)’ accounted for the second highest number of complaints with 11 in total, followed by encouragement of ‘illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption (3.2 f)’ which garnered 8 complaints.

The Portman Group issued four Retailer Alert Bulletins – the most serious sanction against a product which has breached the Code. It requests that retailers cease stocking the product.

The report also acknowledges the challenges faced by the sector and the Portman Group as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Regulation, as ever, has remained steady and firm in the face of crisis, with Panel meetings and advice sessions swiftly becoming virtual.

Download the full report:

Click here


Complaint against ‘Colorado High’, the first CBD infused product to be considered by the alcohol sector’s Independent Complaints Panel, is upheld

A recent complaint against Silent Pool Distillery’s Colorado High CBD-infused gin was upheld by the alcohol industry’s Independent Complaints Panel. This was the first complaint under the Portman Group’s Code of Practice for the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks about a CBD product. A copy of the full decision is available here.

A member of the public submitted the complaint on the product to the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK. The complaint highlighted the potential breach of rule 3.2(c) prohibiting association with illegal drugs and rule 3.2(j) that there should be no association with therapeutic qualities. The Panel found the product to be in breach of both rules.

The Panel noted that cannabis was an illicit drug in the UK but that CBD was not. However, the Panel considered the product’s packaging, which depicted the Colorado mountains in a manner described as ‘hallucinogenic’ by the complainant, the use of the word ‘high’, and the reference to Colorado, one of the first US states to decriminalise recreational cannabis, and concluded that these elements created an indirect association with illicit drugs.

The product descriptor printed on the back label of the bottle included lines such as: ‘A sensory infusion of wellness-enhancing CBD and refreshingly complex gin …’ and ‘Colorado High is a spirit that supports your body’s natural balance and tastes great doing so’. The Panel noted the problematic phrase ‘wellness-enhancing’ as particularly concerning and concluded that the packaging made clear and explicit claims that the product had therapeutic qualities.

The Panel also noted that CBD was widely marketed as providing pain relief and other health benefits and that consumers may assume that an alcoholic drink containing CBD had health benefits. The Panel concluded that the description ‘CBD Gin’ on the front of the bottle and the claims about wellbeing suggested the product had therapeutic qualities. The Panel considered that producers should give consumers information about the inclusion of CBD as an ingredient, if present, but could convey that without referring to CBD in the product name.

Following the Panel’s decision on Colorado High, Silent Pool Distillery has decided not to work with the Portman Group’s Advisory Service on revising the product. As a result, the Portman Group has been forced to issue a Retailer Alert Bulletin (RAB). The RAB will be sent to over 130 Signatories of the Code which includes major supermarkets and other distributors of the product. It will allow retailers to sell any remaining stock but prevent them from re-ordering the product in its problematic form after 20 April 2021.

Commenting on the decision, the Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel, Nicola Williams, said:

“After careful consideration, the Panel decided that Colorado High was in breach of two of the Code’s rules. We would urge producers to think carefully about how they place a CBD descriptor on their product’s packaging. It is important that CBD is viewed as an ingredient, rather than a suggestion of therapeutic or health benefits.”

Following the decision, the Portman Group is currently developing Guidance to aid producers in their use of CBD in alcohol products.

Post COVID-19 = driest January on record? New research shows Brits embrace low and no like never before

The impact of the pandemic, lockdowns and the tier system on Brits’ drinking habits was well documented throughout 2020. Despite widespread concerns surrounding alcohol consumption, many have taken the pandemic as an opportunity to cut down on their drinking, with people of all ages turning to low and no alcohol alternatives.

The Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commissioned YouGov to conduct its annual polling on the rising trend of low and no alcohol and why it might just be the necessary tonic to helps Brits to continue drinking  responsibly.

The research showed that almost two-thirds of UK adults (62.5%) have tried low and no products, including over two-thirds of current UK drinkers (68%). Furthermore, a quarter (25%) of UK drinkers consider themselves to be semi-regular consumers of low and no alcohol [5], with the highest consumption taking place in Scotland (27%).

Key reasons for choosing low and no alternatives include being able to drive home and not drinking excessively at social events. Additionally, among those who say they are more likely to drink low and no products since the emergence of COVID-19, almost half (43%) say they are trying to live healthier and 41% say they are trying to moderate their alcohol consumption at home. This reinforces existing responsible drinking and moderation trends.  17.5% who are already drinking low and no said they would be further encouraged to select alternatives if they were more widely available in supermarkets and hospitality venues.

Despite dramatic media headlines pointing to rising supermarket sales of alcohol during 2020, total alcohol volumes sold actually fell by more than a third during the first lockdown [6]. Conversely, low and no sales continue to soar and the sector has witnessed a phenomenal 30% year-on-year growth from 2019 to 2020 [7], highlighting changing drinking habits in the UK and the sector’s ability to respond to this.

Portman Group research in August showed that a quarter (26%) of UK drinkers had cut their alcohol consumption compared to before the first COVID-19 lockdown, whilst a further 7% had stopped drinking altogether. Some drinkers only turn to alcohol in social situations outside of the home, at a venue, surrounded by family, friends and colleagues. It makes sense that, with the imposition of lockdown restrictions, these kinds of drinkers would slow or pause their alcohol intake. It is also valid to say that these people meet the profile of consumers who have turned to low and no alcohol over recent months.

CEO of the Portman Group, John Timothy, commented:

“Lockdowns and the tier system have given Brits pause to consider their alcohol consumption, with many drinking less than ever before. Low and no alcohol alternatives offer the perfect balance of replicating the atmosphere created by alcohol without any of the associated risks.

“4 in 5 UK adults, the moderate majority, continue to drink within the CMO’s lower risk weekly guidelines. We welcome the rise of low and no alcohol that helps people to moderate their alcohol intake while still enjoying time with family and friends.

A number of Portman Group members have been quick to react to growing demand for low and no alternatives. Heineken has launched a range of zero alcohol beer; interim managing director, Simon Amor, commented:

“In recent years we have seen a steady rise in the interest surrounding low and no alcohol alternatives within beer and cider, and demand from consumers has grown considerably. As part of our approach to responsible drinking and promoting moderation, it is important for us to be able to offer people a high-quality no or low alcohol option amongst the brands they enjoy.”

Emma Heal, Managing Director at Lucky Saint, a British alcohol-free brand, said:

“We are excited to see how the step-change in product quality on offer is driving such huge interest in the low and no category, Lucky Saint has seen explosive sales growth of 300% year on year [8]. We see Dry January 2021 as a great opportunity for people to try new low and no drinks to help them moderate their drinking and start the year in a positive way.”


Portman Group Announces New Chief Executive

The Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, is pleased to announce the appointment of its new Chief Executive, Matt Lambert who will take up his post from January 2021. Matt has extensive experience in management and corporate affairs and is currently the CEO of the Federation for Industry Sector, Skills and Standards. He has previously held senior roles at a number of large corporations including Microsoft and Betfair.

This year has seen the Portman Group make a series of senior appointments with Philip Rycroft announced as the new Chair over the summer and Nicola Williams taking over as Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel.

Philip, who led the search for the new Chief Executive, commented:

“I am delighted to announce the appointment of Matt Lambert as the new Chief Executive of the Portman Group. Matt is a fantastic hire who brings a wide range of experience and a great track record to the role.

“Matt joins the Portman Group at a critical time, not least as the industry faces up to the challenges arising from the impact of COVID-19. I look forward to working with him to shape the future of the Portman Group, to expand our membership and to work with the alcohol industry to deliver its social responsibilities.

Matt’s appointment concludes a comprehensive search carried out following the resignation of current Portman Group Chief Executive John Timothy. John informed the Council of his intention to step down earlier this year, while committing to remain in post to oversee a smooth and managed transition.

Outgoing CEO John Timothy has overseen the consultation and publication of the sixth edition of the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks, which was independently audited to show 95% compliance from the industry. He also secured agreement from members to include updated CMO guidance on labels and delivered an increase in membership with Asahi UK, Aston Manor, Campari, SHS Drinks and Thatcher’s cider all joining in 2020.

Philip added: “With Matt joining, we are saying goodbye to John who has been invaluable to the Group. He was brought in to refocus and enhance the organisation and has done so successfully; he should be immensely proud of the achievements made during his tenure and on behalf of all members, I’d like to thank him for all that he has done.”

Portman Group members were closely involved in the CEO selection process. Gordon Johncox, Chief Executive at Aston Manor Brewery, commented:

“Matt was the unanimous choice to lead the Portman Group into the future and we look forward to working with him to maintain the UK’s respected high standards of self-regulation of the alcohol industry.”

Finally, speaking about his appointment, Matt Lambert said:

I am delighted to be joining the Portman Group at this critical time for the alcohol industry and sharing my vision and ambition for the organisation with the members and the team.

“The Group’s value to the alcohol sector is clear; it has a long and honourable history of effective regulation which has ensured the industry has always remained socially responsible, even in the face of major challenges. I look forward to being a part of shaping the sector and, more immediately, to celebrating 25 years of the Code, a key element in the Portman Group’s work.”

Campari UK Is the Portman Group’s newest member

The Portman Group, the social responsibility and self-regulatory body for the alcohol industry in the UK, is delighted to welcome Campari UK as its newest member. They are the fifth member to join this year, bringing total membership to thirteen.

The Campari Group traces its roots back to 1860 and the invention by Gaspare Campari of the famous red aperitif and now has a portfolio of over 50 major brands in the premium and super premium sectors including Aperol, Glen Grant Scotch and Appleton Estate Rum. With its operational headquarters in Italy, the Group has 21 in market companies, 22 manufacturing plants and distributes to over 190 nations around the world. Campari UK’s membership bolsters the Portman Group’s representation of spirit brands.

Brad Madigan Managing Director at Campari UK commented: “We are committed to the responsible distribution, marketing and sale of alcoholic beverages and to promoting responsible serving and consumption of our products, in all settings.”

“Joining the Portman Group is an affirmation of our commitment to responsible practices and an opportunity to add our voice to the debate. We support the Portman Group as an internationally recognised gold standard self-regulatory model and indeed have been applying its standards in our activities.”

Chief Executive of the Portman Group John Timothy said: “We are pleased to have Campari UK join the Portman Group as yet another new member this year. Their support will allow us to keep working hard in our aims of showing the alcohol industry to be effectively self-regulated and socially responsible.

“Now more than ever, we need support from the industry’s most reputable companies to help us shape the conversation surrounding alcohol. We encourage producers and retailers, both large and small, to talk to us about how they can play their part in engaging with the key policy challenges and aid us in telling the story of this socially responsible sector.”

A new era for the Portman Group’s Independent Complaints Panel

The Portman Group has appointed a new Chair for the Independent Complaints Panel (ICP). The social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK has selected Nicola Williams, an experienced barrister, judge and ombudsman to head up its Panel. As with all ICP chairs, Nicola has a typically impressive career history.

Nicola’s varied experience begins with the law; she was a barrister in private practice for several years before becoming a PCA Board member, a Commissioner at the IPCC (now IOPC), a part-time Crown Court judge and, more recently, working as an Ombudsman, a role she has fulfilled in both the UK and Cayman Islands.

Nicola’s appointment follows the end of the former Chair’s, Jenny Watson CBE, successful tenure. Jenny sat in the role for seven years and chaired more than 80 decisions. Jenny oversaw complaints under the fifth, and current sixth, edition of the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks and chaired the first complaint under the Code of Practice on Alcohol Sponsorship. Jenny’s time as Chair coincided with a period of growth and innovation in the alcohol industry which meant she was able to preside over important decisions regarding nostalgia marketing, the relationship between containers and consumption and products making undue health claims. The outcomes of these decisions resulted in the rebranding of numerous products and, on some occasions, the removal of a product from the market via a Retailer Alert Bulletin. Jenny’s reflections on her time can be read on her goodbye blog here.

Nicola is well-equipped to chair the ICP, which makes decisions based on complaints regarding alcohol products from members of the public and industry. She has previous experience as a sitting member of boards, including the Association of Chief Executives, and has extensive experience of being a key decision-maker, not only in her role as a judge but also in her current role as the Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces – the first ever Ombudsman in UK Defence.

Speaking about her new role, Nicola Williams said: “I am excited to begin my role as the Independent Complaints Panel Chair. The Chair presides over many important decisions. The recent independent audit showed that the alcohol industry is 95% compliant, meaning the Panel has a crucial role in keeping this high level of adherence to the Portman Group’s Code.

“I am eager to begin working with the Panel to ensure the alcohol industry remains a socially responsible one within the context of a strong self-regulatory model.”

John Timothy, Chief Executive of the Portman Group commented: “We are delighted to welcome Nicola as the new Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel. She brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience that will be crucial in working with the Panel.

“This year has been one full of achievement for the Portman Group, with the publication of the independent audit which showed 95% compliance to the sixth edition of the Code. However, it has also been a year full of challenges to the alcohol industry. Having Nicola as the new ICP Chair, as well as Philip Rycroft who was recently announced as our new Group Chair, will be invaluable in progressing our work.”