Shaken, not stirred – alcohol producers clear industry regulatory hurdles

An audit of the British alcohol market has found high levels of compliance to industry standards. While some claim that alcohol producers do not provide the right information on bottles, in reality this isn’t the case. Independent auditors and the Independent Complaints Panel’s decisions show 95% adherence to regulatory standards.

 The Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, has independently audited the alcohol market to assess the industry’s compliance with the latest edition of the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks. The previous audit took place in 2012 showing 92% compliance – so this increase to almost 95% demonstrates an increasingly responsible alcohol sector which adheres and supports an enhanced regulatory regime.

 The Code is now in its sixth edition. The update was launched last year, in response to changes in society and expectations of the industry. The update introduced new guidance to protect the vulnerable and rules that outlawed marketing considered to cause serious or widespread offence. Other changes included a new definition of immoderate consumption and tightening of the rules surrounding links to illegal behaviour and suggestions of mind-altering qualities.

 The independentaudit carried out by Zenith Global,sampled 500 products and assessed them against the updated Code. Just 29 were flagged for potentially breaching the code. The rule most likely to be breached was the stipulation that products, promotions and packaging must not appeal to under 18s. 20.7% of flagged products were deemed to risk breaching this rule; with 17.2% of products breaking the rules regarding placing undue emphasis on alcoholic strength and association with violence, bravado and illegal behaviour.

Interestingly, beer accounted for 60% of flagged products. In addition to this, the majority (67%) of products that were highlighted for potentially breaking the Code were produced overseas, underscoring the need for importers to consider how products adhere to the UK regulation. 

 Speaking about the audit, John Timothy, Chief Executive of the Portman Group, told B365: “The industry has demonstrated that it is committed to the rules and guidelines set out by the Portman Group Code. It is testament to the support to industry regulation from the sector that 95% of products on sale are compliant. This is a sector that by-and-large takes its responsibilities seriously.

 Jenny Watson CBE, Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel, said: “The Code is in place to ensure the alcohol industry remains responsible and is updated when necessary to ensure it reflects shifts in both the industry and society. The ICP works to assess any potential breaches to the Code following complaints from members of the public. In this case, the Panel received relatively few complaints following the audit that accompanies the introduction of a new Code, but it remains important to ensure the industry continues to strive for the highest standards possible.”

 Key Facts

TheCode of Practice on Naming Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinkswas first introduced in 1996. This is the sixth edition of the Code. 

The Code sets standards for socially responsible product packaging in the UK. 

The Audit was commissioned by the Portman Group but the rulings on individual products were made by an Independent Complaints Panel.

There are over 140 signatories to the Portman Group Code. 

Zenith Global randomly sampled 500 products. 29 products were identified as a potential breach by the auditor. The Portman Group took action to resolve the concerns.

  • Six of these related to food labelling law and were referred to Trading Standards.
    • The remaining 23 were considered under the Code, with 14 working with the advice service to resolve the issues.
    • Ultimately, just nine products progressed to the Independent Complaints Panel (ICP). Three of the products were found not to be in breach while the remaining six products breached the Code.
    • Most producers took voluntary action to withdraw or amend their packaging.

The audit found the industry to be 94.8% (nearly 95%) compliant with the Portman Group Code of Conduct after the ICP rulings.

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