Little Pomona Cider House
“I was browsing the internet recently and was shocked to see an image of a little girl on the front of a cider bottle. The bottle is called Little Pomona, the term “Little” emphasises the fact that the child on the front is a “little girl”. It appears to show a young child in a school uniform wearing a headband with stars on it. I find this extremely worrying. This bottle I believe would attract children to try and buy this product which is very concerning. Why would anyone put a picture of a child on a bottle of alcohol? I hope this matter can be investigated. The company appears to be in Herefordshire and they are currently selling it online”.
“Hello, I have recently come across a cider brand called Little Pomona. It has a little girl on the front to which my daughter at 8yrs old said she would like. I find it absolutely [sic] absurd that a company can market a cider with what look likes a young girl on it. in this day and age where under age drinking is getting worse not better we are now allowing companies to market alcohol to young children? I spoke with my other friends about this and they have said exactly the same. My daughter thought it was fizzy pop for kids. How is this allowed in this day and age ‘little Pomona’ means little apple so what a young child advertising cider has to do with their brand I have no idea, it’s truly disgusting and I hope you will look at this seriously. Shocking in all honesty”
Members of the public
Under Code paragraph 3.1:
The alcoholic nature of a drink should be communicated on its packaging with absolute clarity.
Under Code paragraph 3.2(h):
A drink, its packaging or promotion should not have a particular appeal to under-18s (in the case of sponsorship, those under 18 years of age should not comprise more than 25% of the participants, audience or spectators).
Under Code paragraph 3.2(i):
A drink, its packaging or promotional material should not, in any direct or indirect way incorporate images of people who are, or look as if they are, under twenty-five years of age, where there is any suggestion that they are drinking alcohol or they are featured in a significant role. Images may be shown where people appear only in an incidental context.
The company’s submission
The company stated that it had carefully considered the Portman Group’s Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks and explained that it had always intended for the written and visual communication of the brand to be adult in nature. The company explained that the cider was marketed as an aspirational drink and sold in 75cl sharing glass bottles with the intention to elevate the profile of cider. The company explained that the cider was aimed at a mature palate and that it did not sweeten or add any flavours.
The company stated that it used its tasting room on site to encourage consumers to taste the cider in small measures with food. The company explained that it employed a premium pricing policy with a RRP of £9-10 which meant that its Table Cider was priced well above the market average and was a natural barrier to underage purchase.
In its submission, the company explained the origins of the product name ‘Little Pomona’. The company explained that the name was derived from the myth of Pomona who was the Roman goddess of fruitful abundance and a skilled orchardist. The company also explained that there had previously been a successful cidery called Pomona in Herefordshire which had been purchased by Bulmers and had ceased to trade. The company stated that it had decided to prefix Pomona with the word “Little” in homage to the former cidery explained that it also reflected the fact that it was a little business in the context of the wider cider industry. The company stated that it also needed to distinguish itself from a farm called Pomona Farm near Hereford City.
The company then addressed the concerns raised in relation to the illustration on the product packaging. The company stated that it wanted to emphasise the cider’s connection with food and why it subsequently used imagery of a picnic at a table on the front label. The company stated that the image of the female figure on the front label portrayed a confident young woman whom it identified as Pomona. The company explained that the imagery was meant to portray the woman as someone who owned or worked in the orchard. The company stated that it had also wanted to address the gender imbalance in the production of cider by naming its cidery after Pomona. The company stated that it had considered the Portman Group’s Code rules when designing its packaging and had worked hard to comply with the Code.
The company explained that it had commissioned the artist, Ariana Sauder, to create the artwork and had settled on an image that deliberately appealed to adult sensibilities. The company stated that it had chosen a contemporary depiction of Pomona, rather than the sexualised imagery of her seen in classical art. The company explained that the chosen colour palette was matt and not neon, glossy or child-like and that the colours were also soft and slightly unusual. The company stated that it had ensured that the principal character’s appearance on the front label was that of an individual who appeared to be above the age of 25 years. The company stated the character of Pomona was dressed as someone who worked in an orchard and that the scene depicted cider being consumed with food. In addition to this, the company stated that the character’s clothes were not uncommon amongst orchard workers and that the imagery on the headscarf of the moon and sun reflected the seasonality of its production. The company acknowledged that the interpretation of illustrations could always be subjective but stated that it believed that it had taken the correct approach and that imagery on the label was compliant with the Code. The company also highlighted that the label made two references to consuming cider with food and clearly included the ABV percentage.
The company stated that Table Cider was made in the same mould as Table Wine and was designed to be enjoyed with food and friends in moderation. The company explained that the Table Cider concept was designed to shift consumer perceptions of cider and that the product design sought to emphasise the key message that it should be paired with food. The company stated that it had attempted to communicate these messages in an illustrative manner using the product packaging and that it was aimed at sophisticated consumers. The company explained that the concept had been well received by consumers and the media since its launch in July 2020 and had appeared twice on national television on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen and Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. The company stated that it had not received any complaints or negative feedback about the label since its launch.
The company detailed its sales policy and confirmed that it did not support selling to those who were under-age. The company explained that its ciders were sold in specialist online shops, its website, specialist bottle shops, restaurants and bars. The company emphasised that the product was presented in a 75cl wine bottle which represented an adult cue and demonstrated that it was not likely to appeal to children. The company stated that its website was double age-gated and that it had chosen a courier which operated a Challenge 25 delivery protocol. The company stated that it had endeavoured to ensure that the brand character Pomona was depicted as over 25 years of age and that the product was targeted at sophisticated consumers instead of those who were underage.
The Panel’s assessment
Code Rule 3.2(h)
The Panel first considered whether the packaging complied with rule 3.2(h) and discussed the company’s response to the complaints. The Panel noted that the company had provided a detailed explanation behind the brand narrative but also noted that this did not appear on the product packaging and that the company could not expect consumers to be familiar with the folklore of Pomona. The Panel considered the overall impression conveyed by the product and noted that the Pomona character was presented with a large head, wide eyes and what could be mistaken for a headband. However, the Panel also acknowledged that the character was not in school uniform and that the illustration did not resemble an overly cartoon-like style that had been seen in similar cases. The Panel noted that the colours used on the label were muted and did not feature contrast colours often associated with products aimed at those under-18. The Panel discussed the imagery on the label which depicted the characters consuming the cider with a cheese and bread board and agreed that this reflected an adult activity.
The Panel noted that the complainants had raised concerns about the use of the word ‘Little’ in the product name. The Panel considered the company’s submission and the narrative behind the name Pomona and the company’s use of the word ‘Little. The Panel discussed the name, both in isolation and as part of the brand narrative and considered that it was not problematic in this context. When considering the product as a whole, the Panel concluded that the packaging did not have a particular appeal to under-18s and did not find the product in breach of rule 3.2(h).
Code Rule 3.2(i)
The Panel discussed the representation of the female character on the label, who was identified as Pomona by the company. The Panel stated that it was difficult to guess the age of the character and that this was particularly subjective with stylised character. The Panel considered the use of the word ‘Little’ in the product name and noted that in this context it could indicate that the character was under the age of 25. However, the Panel noted that the spirit of rule 3.2(i) was intended to protect under-18s from being exposed to images in alcohol marketing of people with whom they might identify or aspire to be like. While the Panel noted that the age of the female character was ambiguous, they did not consider the character to be under the age of 18 or a child. The Panel also did not consider that the character would represent an individual that under-18s would identify with or aspire to be. Therefore, the Panel concluded that the product did not breach rule 3.2(i).
The Panel cautioned producers about the use of imagery that was ambiguous in nature under rule 3.2(i), particularly stylised illustrations, and encouraged companies to work with the Portman Group’s Advisory Service.
Code Rule 3.1
Whilst discussing whether the product complied with the Code, some Panel members were concerned that the product did not communicate its alcoholic nature with absolute clarity. The Panel therefore discussed whether the product was in breach of rule 3.1.
The Panel noted that ‘Table Cider’ was printed on the front of the label and that cider was commonly understood to be alcoholic in nature. The Panel also noted that the product was in a wine bottle with a crown cap and that further information was available on the back of the label which included the ABV percentage. The Panel considered the overall impression conveyed by the product and concluded that the product did comply with rule 3.1.
Action by Company: