Drinks firm follows ‘responsible’ route

Brewing group Scottish & Newcastle is to become the first drinks company in the UK to put warnings on its labels. Buyers, in future, will be told that ‘responsible drinkers don’t exceed three or four units a day for men and two or three for women’.

The label will then go on to say how many units of alcohol are in the purchased can or bottle – typically two for a can of Fosters or Kronenbourg, for which S & N is responsible. What the score is for Newcastle Brown Ale is a moot point – and will sales suffer in Geordie-land if it turns out to be no more potent than the pale stuff?

Inevitably, the labelling draws comparison with the health warnings on tobacco products. Not that the industry wants us to see it in these terms – this is certainly not a first step towards ‘Drinking kills’ in the way that tobacco products now warn so bluntly that ‘Smoking kills’. Rather, S&N prefers to present this initiative not as a health warning but as a ‘responsibility message’. But seen in these terms it is surely the latest step in a behind-the-scenes effort by the industry to head off something worse from the government.

Back in January in this column I mentioned how the Government had quietly put the drinks industry on notice that it wanted something to be done about binge drinking among 18 to 25-year-olds (PRWeek, 30 January). This is presumably one of the results. The company seeking to confirm that it retains its licence to operate – that licence being rooted in the public acceptance and approval of the firm and what it does – is something far beyond the narrow base of shareholder approval and well beyond the woolly aspirations of CSR advocates.

What is also interesting is whether the PR side of the food industry will follow suit, given the growing concerns about obesity, for it too has to face some very serious issues. Where the drinks industry goes today, surely the food industry will follow tomorrow.

anthony.hilton@haynet.com

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