Magazine article Marketing

Message on the Bottle

Magazine article Marketing

Message on the Bottle

Article excerpt

Will the drinks sector's pledge on labelling practices prevent further change?

Nothing focuses the minds of consumer goods companies like the threat of mandatory regulation with the potential to clamp down on their marketing freedom and create annoying red tape.

This was demonstrated by the volte-face performed by the drinks industry as it quickly smartened up its act when the government began to talk tough on labelling at the start of this year.

At the time, the drinks industry had come in for fierce criticism when it emerged that just 15% of alcoholic beverages carried the correct labelling, as agreed under the three-year-old voluntary scheme. By 2012 the industry had expected to be hitting a paltry 40%.

What a difference four months makes. In the intervening period, as Marketing revealed last week, the Portman Group has persuaded brands and supermarkets to fall into line, and compliance is set to leap to 81% over the next two years.

This will mean the vast majority of alcoholic drinks' packaging will display information on units, a message about responsible drinking, guidance on limiting drinking through pregnancy, a web link for charity Drinkaware and the recommended NHS limits for men and women. The 19% still to comply will be predominantly imported drinks.

Whether this sea change was achieved through a charm offensive or strong-arm tactics is not known, but the results are impressive. So much so, that the chief executive of Alcohol Concern, Don Shenker, expresses disbelief that the figures will be achieved.

'I'm very sceptical,' he says. Given the low levels of take-up thus far, Shenker supports a mandatory system.

Nigel Pollard, external communications director for Heineken UK, begs to differ. 'This isn't one for legislation,' he argues. 'The voluntary scheme affords companies the chance to put across responsible drinking in a way that reflects their own styles.'

Pollard is sure that 'peer pressure' from Portman Group members such as his own company, as well as Carlsberg and Diageo, which have been leading the way on the issue, means the target will be hit.

However, the mass move to consistent labelling could be thrown off course by the new government. In opposition, the Conservatives pushed for the scrapping of the units system in favour of displaying the volume of alcohol in a beverage and its calorie content. …

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