Hard sell of 'soft' drinks criticised

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The head of the government-backed regulatory body for the brewing industry yesterday criticised the way that many alcoholic "soft" drinks have been marketed, writes John McKie.

Dr John Rae, director of the Portman Group which meets tomorrow to discuss a new code of practice for the alcohol industry, said the industry's image had to be "whiter than white".

Last night he criticised the approach of firms such as Bass, which has produced an "alcoholic lemonade", Hooper's Hooch, selling 2 million bottles a week, for encouraging an increase in under-age drinking.

Nigel Griffiths, Labour's consumer affairs spokesman, has already written to the Advertising Standards Authority and the Director-General of Fair Trading to complain about the drinks.

Dr Rae said: "Companies shouldn't use the names of drinks associated with children, like orange juice or lemonade. It's a pretty subjective area. I don't mind Hooch using a smiling lemon to advertise their product but some people do. The industry has got to be seen to be completely disassociated from children. We have got to be whiter than white."

Many brewing firms have come under fire - including Bass for its use of a smiling lemon to promote its Hooch drink. He also criticised a Caribbean drink, Tilt, with 5.5 per cent alcohol, a cider-based drink packaged in a light bulb, and another unnamed alcoholic drink which is bottled via a syringe.

At tomorrow's meeting he intends to propose changes in "the naming, packaging and promotion" of alcoholic soft drinks and a code of practice with the leading brewing firms, all of whom sit on the group. He added: "The code is needed because otherwise these practices will proliferate."

He is likely to meet opposition from many of the big breweries, who feel that they have made enough concessions against under-age drinking. Ian Morris, communications director for Bass, which plans to issue new alcoholic orange and blackcurrant drinks, said in response: "Dr John Rae's position need not necessarily be the position of the whole group. We strongly believe we have marketed our brand responsibly."