Agenda: Why we banned these alcopops - Bill Shannon (above), head of corporate affairs for Co-operative Wholesale Society, explains why the retailer last week pulled all alcopops from the shelves of its 1200 UK stores

What would you do, as a retail buyer, if someone presented you with launch plans for a new ’starter’ cigarette, aimed at the teenage market?

What would you do, as a retail buyer, if someone presented you with

launch plans for a new ’starter’ cigarette, aimed at the teenage


Whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of totally banning tobacco

advertising, I believe most retailers would draw the line at listing a

product clearly aimed at a customer base which is too young to buy it


Alcopops, of course, are not so clear cut. The manufacturers say they

are aimed at a young adult market, and it is not their fault if some are

consumed by younger people. After all, most under-age drinkers go for

lager or cider and no one is suggesting a ban on those drinks. So why

did the Co-operative Wholesale Society ban alcopops, and why now?

First, it is not just a marketing gimmick - but it is at one with a

marketing strategy which stems from the fact that we are a co-op, aiming

to put co-operative values into everyday practice. In marketing terms,

we position ourselves as a ’responsible retailer’.

Obviously, we take steps with these products, as with all other alcohol,

to ensure that they are not bought from us by any under-18s. But we felt

the time had come to do more, and to act on the concerns being expressed

by our customers and members, and by pressure groups and increasingly

government ministers, too.

Obviously, we had to look at the commercial aspects. Alcopops are only a

small part of a wide wines and spirits range but, even so, annual sales

are in seven figures, and taking them off shelf will upset those of our

over-18 customers who enjoy these drinks. However, even at this early

stage we have had a lot of feedback which suggests that our customers

have welcomed the action we have taken.

We don’t usually go along with calls for boycotts but, in this case, we

were persuaded by the argument that alcoholised soft drinks are

different to ciders and lagers.

A question of taste

They appeal instantly to young people, who do not have to acquire the

taste. Indeed, anecdotal evidence says that a far more significant

proportion of the eventual consumption is by teenagers than is the case

with lager.

This probably also differentiates alcopops from the new ’party drinks’:

mixers and coolers which, it can be argued, are more of a

’sophisticated’, acquired taste, and which certainly appear to be aimed

more at the young adult.

From launch, many alcopops have used ’names, a descriptor or packaging

that employs imagery, cultural allusions or icons predominately popular

with under-18s’. The industry can hardly deny that, as its own watchdog,

The Portman Group, (the above is a quote from its Code) has now upheld

complaints against at least five brands for infringements of the

under-age rules. There are a further 34 complaints outstanding (though

not all are necessarily to do with age-related marketing).

We strongly agree with self-policing but Portman cannot do anything

until a product is on the market, and even then it cannot enforce its

judgement if the supplier chooses to ignore it.

Nor can it undo the imagery, already established in the young consumer’s

mind, for a product which has been successfully launched and whose

manufacturer later agrees to modify its label.

So if self-policing fails, what about legislation? The problem here is

that while you and I know what we mean by an alcopop, I pity the poor

civil servant who has to draft a legal definition.

Far better for retailers to take a subjective, but responsible, view and

say, as we have done (and Iceland, too), that we feel we should not sell

products that in our opinion are likely to appeal to, and be consumed

by, people who are not old enough to buy them from us.

And if that is not true of your product, then all you have to do to get

back on our shelves is convince us!

Banned Brands

- Hooper’s Hooch (five flavours)

- Two Dogs

- Shott’s Cranberry Charge

- Shott’s Blueberry Blaze

- Shott’s Lemon Jag

- Shott’s Vanilla Heist

- Woody’s Strawberry

- Woody’s Pink Grapefruit Barker’s

- Liquid Gold Alcoholic Cola

- Decoda Alcoholic Soda

- Stunn Blackcurrant Blitz

- Mog Alcoholic Cream Soda

- Vault Alcoholic Soda

- Wkd Alcoholic Iron Brew


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