Company: Wells & Young’s Brewing Company
Final Decision: 26 June 2008
Considered under the 4th Edition of the Code.
“Anyone consuming the content of a can of 500ml super-strength lager is drinking 4.5 units of alcohol and is exceeding the government’s suggested safe-drinking limits. Our contention is therefore that, by producing alcohol of this strength in 500ml cans, the producers are infringing the Code of Practice under 3.2 (f) by encouraging immoderate consumption and encouraging binge drinking and drunkenness. Clearly, the fact that the cans are not re-sealable indicates that the expectation is that the contents of the can must be drunk within a limited time-period and cannot be stored to be consumed at a later date. Furthermore, the reality is these drinks are not shared between people and are almost always drunk by a single individual”
Under Code paragraph 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.
Under Code paragraph 3.2(a)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way have the alcoholic strength, relatively high alcohol content, or the intoxicating effect, as a dominant theme.
The company’s submission
The company maintained that the product was brewed to be enjoyed in moderation. They asserted that, in the end, drinking behaviour was an issue of personal responsibility; if someone was drinking irresponsibly, changing the strength of a drink or size of its container would not address the cause of their misuse and thus was unlikely to change their behaviour.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel noted that the government’s advice on sensible drinking was expressed as guidelines rather than strict limits and that these guidelines stated that men should not regularly exceed 3 to 4 units of alcohol a day. The Panel further noted that lower guidelines existed for women. The Panel considered that the phrasing of the government’s advice raised questions over the rationality of treating four units of alcohol as a threshold of responsibility. The Panel further noted that a number of drinks containers had considerably more than four units of alcohol, for example bottles of wine and large plastic bottles of cider, and often these containers were not easily re-sealable and/or their contents might degrade if not consumed in two or three days. The Panel considered it was difficult to make a reasonable and objective distinction on responsibility grounds between a can of strong lager and these other types of drinks container. While acknowledging the complainant’s concern, the Panel concluded that using the Code to restrict container size in this way was inappropriate and liable to lead to inconsistencies. The Panel therefore decided to not uphold the complaint under Code paragraph 3.2(f).
The Panel, however, expressed concern over the way in which the product’s packaging placed emphasis on its alcoholic strength. It noted that the word “Super” was prominently displayed across the front of the can immediately above the word “strength” so that the two were read in conjunction with one another. It further noted that the description “very strong lager” featured on the front of the can. In addition, it noted that references to strength appeared, albeit with less prominence, in several other places on the can. It considered that these textual references were reinforced by the prominent, stern image of a kestrel on the can’s front. The Panel considered that these textual references and the image, in combination, served to make strength the dominant theme of the packaging. It accordingly found the product in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(a).
Action by company
The company agreed to consult the Portman Group’s Advisory Service for guidance on appropriate changes to the packaging.