Brewers' watchdog to slam alcopops face new flak on alcopops ' watchdog face new alcopop problem

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Brewers face the embarrassment of being criticised by their own watchdog next week on the eve of the introduction of a new code of conduct aimed chiefly at curbing under-age drinking.

The new row over alcopops will be prompted by a report by The Portman Group into a succession of complaints into drinks which allegedly promote under-age drinking and anti-social behaviour.

An independent panel, chaired by Laurence Shurman, the former banking ombudsman, has considered 17 complaints registered by the public and organisations. Sources close to the panel said almost all the complaints had been upheld.

The findings will worry brewers because the revised code of conduct allows for much tougher sanctions to be taken against those companies which fail to comply with official guidelines on how drinks are marketed, labelled and packaged. Apparently concerned by the forthcoming code, some drinks manufacturers have already removed several alcopops from sale.

Carlsberg-Tetley said its decision to drop brands such as Lemonhead, Orangehead and Vault in June had been a commercial one. Bass, which makes Hooch, claimed its product appealed to the 20 to 30-year-old age group and it had no intention of pulling out of the market, while Scottish Courage made a similar commitment to its product, Two Dogs.

Both companies, however, indicated they would change their marketing strategies in order to reduce the risk of encouraging under-age drinking.

The manufacturers have been stung by the decision of supermarket chains such as Co-op, Iceland and Safeway to remove alcopops from sale.

Pub companies JD Wetherspoon and Beards of Sussex have dropped the drinks from their outlets and Whitbread has banned them from family bars.

The alcopops market has grown rapidly in the past two years and is now worth pounds 350m.