Brewers take a fresh look at the alcopops market

Click to follow
The two biggest brewing and pubs groups in the United Kingdom are preparing to change radically the way they market their highly controversial alcopops, with the specific aim of defusing the row over under-age drinking.

Bass is considering a multi-million pound relaunch of Hoopers Hooch, the leading alcoholic lemonade drink. More than 3 million bottles and cans of Hoopers Hooch are sold every week.

Scottish Courage has also admitted that it is revamping Two Dogs lemonade, which it distributes for the Merrydown cider group, to appeal to "women and older customers".

The climbdown by the two drinks groups comes as Safeway, the supermarket chain, yesterday became the latest in a long line of retailers to withdraw some alcopops from its shelves.

The Co-op and frozen food group Iceland have already banned alcopops and two leading pub chains, Whitbread and JD Wetherspoon, announced earlier this week that they planned to stop selling alcopops.

The move also comes just weeks before the Portman Group, the drinks industry watchdog, is to introduce a code of practice aimed at cracking down on under-age drinking and alcopops.

"The drinks themselves are not the problem, it is the way they are marketed. We welcome any move to change the brands so they are aimed at the adult market," said a Portman Group spokesman.

From next month the Portman Group will have sweeping powers to force retailers to ban alcopops if they believe they are designed to appeal to under-18s.

Scottish Courage is about to launch a pounds 1m advertising campaign in an effort to try and promote Two Dogs as "a more adult drink" targeting the over-30s, especially females.

The new drink, which will have a sharper taste, will be served in longer bottles and the size of the word "alcoholic" will be significantly increased on the label.

Bass is considering taking off the characteristic cartoon lemon on the Hoopers Hooch label and repackaging the bottle, according to industry sources.

The market for alcopops has grown rapidly since Two Dogs was introduced from Australia to Britain in 1995. Since then more than a hundred new brands have been introduced and the market has grown to an estimated pounds 350m a year.

But there has been mounting concern that the proliferation of brightly coloured products, which have traded under names such as Purple Passion and TNT-Liquid Dynamite and are designed to appeal to younger drinkers, have led to an increase in under-age drinking.

When Moo, an alcoholic milk, went on sale in Oxfordshire earlier this year it caused uproar among politicians and anti-drink campaigners. The Home Office is likely to introduce other measures to clamp down on alcopops, including the introduction of a national proof of age card.