Company: Test Tube Products
Breach: No

Complaint Summary: “Alcohol Focus Scotland would like to complain about these drinks 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 or immoderate consumption or urge the consumer to drink rapidly or to “down” a product in one.

All of these drinks are sold in test tube packaging which means they are clearly designed to be downed in one go rather than sipped. The containers cannot be set down on a flat surface so the consumer has to drink it all at once.

It is the view of Alcohol Focus Scotland that these products do not promote a positive message of safe and responsible drinking and clearly breach the Portman Group’s Code of Practice.” 

Complainant: Alcohol Focus Scotland

Decision: Under Code paragraph 3.2(f) and 3.2(g) NOT UPHELD

The company explained that their product was sold in 20ml containers, the lowest volume permissible in the UK, and had a strength of 14% ABV; this meant each tube contained just 0.28 of an alcohol unit. The company maintained that 20ml was no more than a mouthful, pointing out that this was the volume recommended in the instructions for a mouthwash product. They further claimed that one was likely to consume a greater volume of liquid in a typical mouthful of beer and that one would consume a greater volume of alcohol in a 8ml sip of whisky.

Notwithstanding the above, the company also maintained that consumers were not bound to drink the tube’s content in one go. The tube was re-sealable and could be set down horizontally on a flat surface.  The re-sealed product could also be placed in one’s pocket or handbag which, they claimed, was an advantage in nightclubs because the majority of consumers would not have access to a table and might also be worried about leaving unattended drinks for fear of them being ‘spiked’.

The company further maintained that their product was relatively expensive, working out as at least £5.72 per unit of alcohol. The company said that they were able to control the price because they only sold directly to the end-user in certain bars using their own well-trained staff.

The Panel asked the Portman Group to commission independent research into the way in which consumers tended to drink products in test-tube containers and their perceptions of such products. The company simultaneously commissioned its own research on this issue.

The Panel noted from the Portman Group-commissioned independent research that it was highly likely that a test-tube drink would be consumed ‘down-in-one’ by the drinker.  It also noted, however, that only a minority of drinkers cited the test-tube design as the cause of this drinking behaviour; drinkers were more likely to claim that they drank the product ‘down-in-one’ because of the small volume of liquid in the test-tube. The Panel also noted the company’s arguments and the company-commissioned research findings which suggested that test-tube drinks made an insignificant contribution to alcohol misuse. The Panel acknowledged it had previously made decisions that implied a drink in a test-tube container would inevitably breach the Code for urging ‘down-in-one’ consumption (see 2009 decisions on Rampant and Mwaah!). In light of the fresh arguments and evidence that had been made available, however, and considering the relatively small quantity of alcohol contained in each test-tube, the Panel considered that this product was unlikely to cause harmful drinking behaviour and did not breach the spirit of Code in terms of urging ’down-in-one’ consumption. Accordingly, the Panel did not find the product in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(g).

The Panel acknowledged that, in view of the low volume of alcohol in each container, the product’s packaging could not be said to be encouraging immoderate consumption. Accordingly, the Panel did not find the product in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(f).

Action by Company: None needed

Code Paragraphs: 3.2(f); 3.2(g)