A recent complaint about United Dutch Breweries product, Oranjeboom 8.5%, was upheld by the Independent Complaints Panel. A copy of the full decision is available here.

Each time a new Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks is introduced, the Portman Group commissions an independent audit of the market to measure compliance. In 2019, the Portman Group introduced the sixth edition of the Code of Practice and commissioned Zenith Global to carry out an audit of 500 products which were randomly selected from the market. Zenith Global was concerned that Oranjeboom 8.5% might breach of the Code of Practice. The full audit report is due to be published in Spring 2020.

During the audit, Zenith Global expressed concern that the product put undue emphasis on its alcoholic strength by including the word ‘extra’ next to strong and that this went beyond giving factual information about the product.

Considering these concerns, the Panel noted that:

  • The Oranjeboom range included lagers of different strengths and “extra strong” was an acceptable name to differentiate the product variant from others in the range.
  • Within the overall design the phrase “extra strong” was not given undue emphasis.

The  Panel also considered the figure “8.5” displayed on the front of the can. They noted that this was printed in large, white numbers and considered that this was a prominent feature of the design which emphasised the higher strength of the product. The Panel was concerned that this could have a particular appeal to those who are vulnerable drinkers, which is now a consideration under the newly updated code.

The Panel also considered whether the product encouraged irresponsible or immoderate consumption, stating that:

  • The can was not resealable, and it did not prompt consumers to share the contents.
  • The Advisory Service’s guidance for the new Code advises that containers which are typically single-serve should not contain more than four units in line with the update Chief Medical Officers’ weekly low-risk drinking guidelines.
  • They calculated that the product contained 4.25 units of alcohol.
  • Research commissioned from YouGov found that the public would typically expect that alcohol presented in this container is a single served product.

In conclusion, the Panel believed the “8.5” element of design went beyond giving factual information and gave the higher alcoholic strength undue emphasis. Meanwhile, the non-resealable nature of the can in conjunction with the size and lack of reference to sharing meant it encouraged immoderate consumption. For this reason, the complaint was upheld under Code paragraphs:

  • 3.2(a) – A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way give the higher alcoholic strength, or intoxicating effect, undue emphasis. A product’s lower alcoholic strength may be emphasised proportionately when it is below the average strength for similar beverages. Factual information about alcoholic strength may be given.
  • 3.2(f) – A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way encourage illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption, such as drink-driving, binge-drinking or drunkenness.

Commenting on the decision the Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel, Jenny Watson, said:

“The Panel’s decision on Oranjeboom 8.5% highlights that when unit content is close to four units, producers should carefully consider the risk of encouraging immoderate consumption or appealing to vulnerable consumers. The Panel considered factors that would reduce this risk such as a recommendation to share the contents or per-serve messaging. Unfortunately, in the case of Oranjeboom 8.5% these elements were not included on the can and this gave the higher alcoholic strength of the product undue emphasis and risked encouraging immoderate consumption.”

Commenting on the decision, United Dutch Breweries said:

“United Dutch Breweries already voluntarily decided to replace Oranjeboom 8.5% ABV on the UK Market for a lower ABV variant. As of March 2020 only the new lower ABV variant will be sold in UK, so Oranjeboom 8.5% ABV will phase out.”