Company: Budweiser Brewing Group (a part of AB InBev)
Final Decision: 14 November 2019
“I would like to ask the Panel to consider whether the 750ml bottle of Leffe Brune Abbey Beer produced by Anheuser-Busch InBev is in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(f). The Advisory Service’s guidance on Code paragraph 3.2(f) recommends that “containers which are typically single-serve, and whose contents are typically consumed by one person in one sitting, should not contain more than four units”. This 750ml container of a 6.5% ABV drink contains 4.9 units of alcohol.”
Alcohol Change UK
Under Code paragraph 3.2(f):
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
The company’s submission
The company said they were committed to advertising, marketing and packaging their beers responsibly.
The company noted the complainant had cited the cited published guidance from the Portman Group’s Advisory Service, which recommended that:
Containers which are typically single-serve, and whose contents are typically consumed by one person in one sitting, should not contain more than four units.
The company quoted further from the same guidance and noted that:
it is view of the Advisory Service that (regardless of alcohol type) a 750ml bottle would not constitute a single-serve container and is for sharing over one or more than one sitting […] it is the view of the Advisory Service that the Panel is likely to take other factors into account when determining whether a product encourages immoderate consumption
The company addressed some of the factors mentioned in the guidance. They pointed out that the back label included the energy values per 100ml and 250ml, which they said was done intentionally to indicate a recommended serving size of 250ml and thus not recommend the product be consumed in one sitting by one person. The company said the back label also included the statements: ‘Made for Sharing’, ‘Enjoy Responsibly’ and ‘Please Drink Responsibly’. They highlighted a link to drinkaware.co.uk, which provided information on making better choices while drinking and unit information, and tapointyourbeer.co.uk, which was their own website giving a guide to consumers on responsibly enjoying their beers.
The company stated the product’s heritage was centred around the sociability of the brand and drew attention to the description on the product website:
Leffe Brown is a perfect beer to sample among friends, while you read a good book or in front of a warm fireplace in the evening. It is also ideally paired with aperitif snacks or cheese and it goes perfectly with spicy, caramelised or sweet and sour dishes.
The company stated they take complaints made to the Portman Group very seriously. The company reiterated that they believed the product complied with both the letter and the spirit of the Code, given the sharing message, per serve recommendation, responsible drinking message and the positioning of the product on the market as a drink for friends and to be enjoyed with food.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel agreed that the product’s shape and size were very reminiscent of wine bottle, which in their judgement consumers understood was designed for sharing; they felt this to be a widely held understanding. The Panel also referred to a survey on consumer perceptions of different alcohol containers conducted by YouGov in 2019 at the request of the Panel, which reinforced this cultural assumption. It found that most consumers saw products contained in wine bottles of 750ml, which this packaging resembled, as designed for sharing. Further, consumers felt products packaged in this way were designed to be poured into a glass rather than being drunk straight from the bottle, which reinforced the sharing feel. The Panel also noted that it was possible to reseal a product of this nature. This confirmed the Panel in its view that products packaged in this way were not seen as for consumption by one person, nor did they need to be consumed in a single sitting.
The Panel noted the producer’s comments about its website but considered that a sharing message displayed online this was less relevant, because consumers were unlikely to refer to the producer’s website when they made a decision about buying or consuming the product. The Panel believed that, in this case, it should consider the effect of the packaging independently of the website marketing.
The Panel acknowledged that the back label included a sharing message, although they found it difficult to read because it was in small text on a busy label. The Panel considered that the overall presentation was of a premium product with cues that it was not a single serving, most visibly the size and shape of the bottle. The Panel considered that the product could do more to communicate information to consumers, including making the sharing message clearer, or displaying a message about the number of units in the bottle but concluded that it was not in breach of the Code. The complaint was not upheld under Code rule 3.2(f).
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