(Update 29 Sept, please see response from Diageo at the bottom of the post)
The alcohol industry must be acutely aware of the growing political and public health momentum to tackle harmful consumption, particularly by young people.
What, then, to make of these new “casks alcopops”?
As the YouTube clip at the bottom of this post suggests, they are just the ticket for promoting youthful binging.
And they gave the outgoing president of the Public Health Association of Australia Professor Mike Daube a catchy news hook in his address to the association’s conference in Adelaide yeterday. He called for the products to be withdrawn from the market.
“The Diageo company, which sells Smirnoff vodka, now brings you alcopops in casks. Smirnoff vodka and orange, or vodka and cranberry,” Daube said.
“Essentially alcopops on tap – selling on special at $22.50, so ten standard vodka drinks for a grand total of $22.50. What could be an easier way for kids to pre-load and get drunk?
“It’s amazing stuff – apparently barely tastes of alcohol, which of course makes getting drunk even easier, and advertisements on the Smirnoff website feature young people enjoying the product.
“Alcopops are bad enough, but it is hard to think of anything much more cynical than selling alcopops in casks. Getting drunk was never so easy.”
From a strategic point of view, this is such a bad look for an industry under regulatory pressure. It’s possible that this sort of blinkered focus on the immediate bottom line will prove detrimental to the industry’s longer-term health.
Don’t the people in product development talk to the people in government relations?
Or does it simply show that the industry is just plain cocky, and utterly confident of being able to ride out community and public health concerns? (The casks have already had a bit of a negative media run, as per these recent reports.)
As Daube commented yesterday, there are many similarities between the tobacco, alcohol and junk food companies.
“These are massive, mainly international companies whose only concern is to sell as much of the product as possible, and who will not be deflected by knowledge of the harm their products cause to users and others,” he said.
“They will consistently oppose any action that might adversely affect their sales, while offering up delay, discussion and soft options that are guaranteed to have no impact.”
One question is whether the alcohol and junk food industries will suffer the reputational loss that the tobacco industry has experienced.
Update, 29 Sept.
Response from Bob Rayner | Corporate Relations Director | Diageo Australia
In response to criticism of our Smirnoff and Cranberry boxed product in your edition of 28 September, we would like to offer some facts about the development and positioning of this product.
Smirnoff and Cranberry and Smirnoff and Blood Orange are premium products that have been developed to appeal to consumers aged 30+. They reflect global consumer trends of at-home entertaining and the fact that people are willing to pay a premium price for premium products in a convenient format. The recommended retail price (RRP) for a 2 litre box is $26.99, which at $2.70 per standard drink, is certainly a premium price point. We researched this product with consumers 30+ and they told us they loved the convenience of a box format which can be stored in the refrigerator when thinking about entertaining at home or around the BBQ with friends.
Contrary to claims about the product’s sweetness, its taste profile is tart, and slightly dry to appeal to consumers aged 30+, and at 6.4% alcohol content, it has about half the alcohol content of wine and is several times the price for most boxed wines.
For decades, alcohol beverages have been sold in cans, bottles and casks. When it comes to alcohol misuse, the focus should be on how people are drinking, not what they are drinking or the format in which it is delivered. There is a role for people to play in taking responsibility for their own alcohol consumption.
As a producer, we live up to our responsibility and enforce one of the industry’s most stringent marketing codes which applies to all product development and marketing, and ensures we never target people under the legal purchase age. The TV advertisement for the product featured in your column does not, as you try to suggest, promote or show alcohol misuse or binge drinking.
We share the health industry and the community’s concerns over alcohol misuse. Further, it is simply not in our interests for anyone to abuse our products. The fact remains that it is a minority of Australians who misuse alcohol and efforts should be focused on these groups. We are committed to working with industry, government and other stakeholders to tackle this.