Company: AB Inbev
Final Decision: 12 June 2014
Considered under the 4th Edition of the Code.
The lager is described prominently on the front of the can as ‘Strong Lager’ and the 9.0% alc vol (which is stronger than a typical lager) is displayed prominently in a large type. Both of these emphasise the alcoholic strength rather than providing factual information about the higher alcoholic content.
The Portman Group (in lieu of complainant as part of 2012 Code Compliance Audit).
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.
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.
The company’s submission
The company asserted that the word ‘strong’ and the font size of the alcohol strength statement were used to provide consumers with clear information that the product was above average strength for its category, and that this was communicated in a factual way. The presentation was to allow consumers to easily differentiate between this product and the standard strength version of the brand. The company went on to say that the information allowed the consumer to make responsible drinking choices, and this was reinforced by the size and placement of ‘please drink responsibly’ on the front of the can, which the company argued was more prominent than it would be on an average strength product. The company believed the packaging simply informed consumers of the product’s high strength and in no way sought to glamorise the product strength.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel agreed that it was necessary to inform, or warn, consumers if a product was higher than average strength. In judging the product packaging the Panel noted that the responsible drinking message on the front of the can was presented with the same prominence as the product strength. The Panel concluded that the two messages gave the product strength due prominence.
The Panel then considered the interaction of the statements ‘Tennent’s Super’ and ‘Strong Lager’ and whether these sought to place undue emphasis, or glamorise, the product strength. After much discussion, the Panel concluded that ‘Tennent’s Super’ would be regarded as the brand name and ‘strong lager’ as the product descriptor. The Panel therefore concluded that the words did not place undue emphasis or seek to glamorise the product strength and that the product was not in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(a).
The Panel went on to consider whether the product packaging was in breach of other Code rules. It noted that the product had been subject to a similar complaint in 2008 and on that occasion the Panel had not upheld the complaint. The Panel, however, decided that in view of the length of time that had since elapsed it should not necessarily be bound by that precedent. The Panel considered that it should be responsive to changes in the prevailing climate in society and, in particular, to the growing focus by local authorities on products that were believed to be disproportionately consumed by problem drinkers.
The Panel particularly focused on whether the packaging could be encouraging immoderate consumption. The Panel noted that one 500ml can contained 4.5 units; this was 0.5 units above the threshold Government recommended men should not regularly exceed on a daily basis, and 1.5 units above the threshold for women. The Panel also felt that because of the container type, and that the product quality would degrade quickly once the can was opened, it was reasonable to expect that the contents would be consumed by one person in one session.
In light of this, the Panel concluded that the product packaging did encourage immoderate consumption and thereby found the product in breach of Code rule 3.2(f).
Action by company
The company confirmed that it had already made plans to cease production and distribution of the 500ml Tennent’s Super 9% ABV can from the end of 2014.