Watchdog fights back over craft criticism

The Portman Group has defended itself following criticism that it is restricting the creative freedom of craft beer producers after a number of high-profile rulings.

Chief executive John Timothy said: “Our code of practice is designed to strike the right balance between creative freedom and protecting the most vulnerable in our society.

“We do not want to prevent producers using innovative, bright packaging but would urge them to consider the overall impression of a product to ensure that each design element is used responsibly and with
a mature audience in mind to avoid appealing to children, however inadvertently.”

His comments follow a controversial ruling at the end of 2019, in which Welsh brewer Tiny Rebel was asked to make further amendments to can designs for its popular beer Cwtch to prevent it from appealing to under-18s.

The producer had already invested in amending the design to appease the Portman Group two years previously.

Tiny Rebel said in a statement on the latest ruling that the Portman code of practice “isn’t fit for the craft beer industry and works on a totally subjective view”.

A recent complaint against Kirin-owned Fourpure’s Juicebox IPA was also upheld, following concerns that the citrus-themed packaging and brand name could appeal to children.

Meanwhile, complaints against Heineken’s Birra Moretti Grani Antichi and Budweiser Brewing’s Leffe Brune were kicked into touch.

Alcohol Change UK had complained that each of the beers – being higher in strength than many and packaged in 75cl bottles – could be in breach of the code.

The panel ruled in favour of the brewers on the grounds that their premium branding and bottle shapes resembled the traditional sharing format of wine bottles.

The Portman Group, which is funded by larger drinks producers including AB-Inbev, Carlsberg, Heineken and Molson Coors, stressed it does not favour large producers over their craft counterparts, and that each case is considered on its merits.

Timothy said: “While our member companies may currently be larger producers, we are in regular communication with smaller producers and are always eager to strengthen our links with the craft sector.

“The panel receives a range of briefings and training throughout the year to help it keep a broad understanding of the changing UK alcohol market.

One of these briefings last year was from the head of SIBA, who was invited to present to the panel to outline the perspective of the craft sector, and who also contributed to our recent code review.”

The Portman Group said it plans to continue to push for higher standards of social responsibility from the alcohol industry. Timothy said it needs to ask what more it can do to reduce harm and misuse.

He said: “We need to demonstrate the continued success of self-regulation and show that the alcohol industry is serious and capable of keeping its own house in order to market responsibly.

“This year is an opportunity to build on previous successes and unite all sectors of our industry to demonstrate a collective commitment to tackle harm.

“While there has been some progress, a minority of people continue to drink at exceptionally high levels, resulting in harm to themselves, their families and the wider community.”

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