Company: Harwood Drinks
Breach: Yes

Complaint Summary: “Alcohol Focus Scotland would like to complain about this drink in relation to clauses 3.2(f) and (g) of the Portman Group’s Code of Practice which state that a drink, its packaging and any promotional activity should not encourage irresponsible consumption or urge the consumer to drink rapidly or to “down” a product in one. 

Mmwah! is sold in test tube packaging which is clearly designed to be downed in one rather than sipped. The design of the packaging is obviously intended to appeal to young women with its pink lipstick mark and brightly coloured fruity flavours like passion and cherry.

 The website refers to sales tools including shooter belts for a salesperson to promote the shots in bars. It also states that they “are a fun addition to any drinking experience” and “they are bought in addition to existing drinks, not as a replacement”. We are concerned that this type of product and promotion means people are being encouraged to buy and drink more alcohol than they intended. It is the view of Alcohol Focus Scotland that this product does not promote a positive message of safe and responsible drinking and clearly breaches the Portman Group’s Code of Practice.”

Complainant: Alcohol Focus Scotland

Decision: Under Code paragraph 3.1 NOT UPHELD

Under Code paragraph 3.2(f), (g) and (h) UPHELD

The company maintained that they avoided any encouragement of irresponsible consumption in their promotional material and that they sold the product only to licensed bars or clubs which prevented under-18s from accessing the product. They said that in response to the complaint they had made certain changes to the website, including the removal of the images of “shooter belts” and the description of the drinks as a “fun addition”, and the inclusion of a statement encouraging responsible drinking. They furthermore were in the process of changing the secondary packaging to remove the image of pink lips. They did not consider, however, that the product or its promotion was in breach of the Code.

The Panel noted that the test tubes stated “flavoured alcoholic drink” quite prominently immediately below the brand name. The Panel considered that, in view of the limited space available, the company had taken reasonable steps to ensure the packaging communicated the alcoholic nature of the drink. Accordingly, the Panel did not find the product in breach of Code paragraph 3.1.

The Panel noted that the test-tube container could not be set down on its base on a flat surface. While noting that the product could in theory be re-sealed and stood upside down on its lid, the Panel nonetheless considered that the test-tube packaging format was effectively urging down-in-one consumption. The Panel accepted that the alcoholic content of a single container was moderate (approximately 0.3 of a unit) but was concerned that this was a style of consumption that was unwise and which the Code was seeking to prevent. Accordingly, the Panel found the product in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(g).

[NOTE: The Independent Complaints Panel has since revised its opinion on whether test-tube containers necesarily urge down-in-one consumption – see decision on Quivers dated 11 May 2010]

Furthermore, the Panel noted from the original website material that the product was clearly designed to encourage additional alcohol consumption among on-trade clientele. It considered that the whole idea of the product was to drive incremental consumption through an inappropriate drinking style (i.e. “down-in-one”). Accordingly, the Panel considered the product was encouraging irresponsible, excessive consumption and found it in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(f).

The Panel also considered that the novel nature of the product’s packaging, in combination with the bright colour of some of the flavour variations and the bright lips on the display box, would cause the product to have a particular appeal to under-18s. It noted the company’s argument about their sales policy but further considered that once the company had sold stocks of the product to another company, it had no control over the channels through which that stock might subsequently be sold. Accordingly, the Panel found the product in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(h)

Action by Company: The company has said that it will consult with the Portman Group´s Code Advisory Service

Code Paragraphs: 3.2(f), (g) and (h)