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AIM Press Release: 'There should be a mind set change from 'marketing drinks responsibly' to 'marketing responsible drinking itself'

AIM - Alcohol in Moderation held its 4th Forum on social, medical and scientific issues relevant to responsible drinking on Thursday in London.

The topic under discussion was whether different sectors of the drinks industry, including marketers, retailers and producers can ' develop product innovation, market creatively and increase sales in a responsible manner - Balancing social responsibility and company growth involving alcoholic drinks 'for further information, please contact or phone 01225 471444.

The European social and political context

The European drinking context was set by Marie Choquet (MA,BA,PhD) who is a Social Psychologist and Epidemiologist with INSERM. Marie explained that while 16 year olds might be drinking similar amounts in Europe, it is how the alcohol is drunk that should be highlighted, with levels of drunkenness in the last 30 days much higher in countries such as Denmark, the UK and Ireland than in France for example. Her research has shown the importance of parents setting a good example to teenagers, and how it important it is to know where teenagers are and what they are doing when out as regards their behaviour.

- Statistics and trends of alcohol consumption in Europe

Accountability, best practice and evaluation

Eelco van Ravenswaaij, Chair of the Social Aspects working Group of CEPS (European spirits association) in Brussels explored the European social and policy context in which the industry is operating, including the importance of dialogue and cooperation with WHO, the European Parliament and the Alcohol Health Forum. He outlined the importance of accountability, best practice and evaluation for his sector and hence CEPS publishes a progress report on their charter on responsible alcohol consumption and both standards and on the ground delivery of programmes to reduce misuse are audited by KPMG. This allows the organisation to put pressure on member countries that may be lagging behind in implementing Corporate Social responsibility initiatives such as designated driver schemes for example. CEPS also provides detailed 'tool kits' on which members can model their efforts as well as examples of best practice to emulate.

The European social and policy context in which the industry is operating

Public health - common ground in alcohol policy

Nick Sheron, a consultant Hepatologist who was a founder of the Alcohol Health Alliance and sits on the European Alcohol and Health Forum, discussed the options he saw as viable to reduce alcohol related harm - Sheron's research has shown that detecting, intervening and treating heavy or problem drinkers is highly effective and does not generally happen in the UK. Although alcohol consumption is often discussed in primary care and in GP surgeries options of referral to an alcohol specialist do not exist. 5.7% of alcohol 'misusers 'currently have access to treatment in the UK.

Sheron referred to the Pareto principle whereby 80% of the product is consumed by 20% of the consumers - he called on the industry to harness its effective social marketing skills to 'market responsible consumption' to this 20%. Sheron asked the industry to look at two things - lowering the alcohol content of existing brands, therefore lowering consumer unit consumption without them drinking less, and to encourage consumers to drink 'less but better' quality products.

Changing the shape of the curve ? common ground in alcohol policy

Marketing responsible drinking - sustainable and profitable.

David Cox of Brown Forman Europe suggested it was time for the industry to up the stakes from ' box ticking' such as including responsible drinking strap lines on advertising and Sensible Drinking Guidelines on packaging, to really embracing responsible issues and embedding them into all aspects of company ethos. He challenged all sectors to move from marketing drinks responsibly to marketing responsible drinking itself. Responsibility issues include sustainable farming practices, fair working conditions, issues such as packaging waste, carbon footprint and recycling. It also includes making all employees sign up to and to understand the issues surrounding marketing and selling a product, which if consumed immoderately can lead to harm. Finally he believes that an ethical and responsible approach is both sustainable, profitable and offers marketing and brand extension opportunities

Embedding CSR and ethics into company ethos - Issues facing the wine sector

A case study

'Beautiful beer' was profiled as a current initiative to change the perception of beer in the UK. Beautiful beer is using stemmed bowl shape glasses, encouraging beer and food menus and training staff in the on trade. The programme objectives are to encourage women to consider beer as a low alcohol, naturally fermented dry beverage, to highlight the number of different beer styles and provenance and to encourage current drinkers to drink less but higher quality beers.

Ros Shiel , PR Manager, Beautiful Beer - Beautiful Beer campaign

Growth in 'low or no' sectors

Helena Conibear highlighted the positive market indicators of consumers willing to trade up with increasing expenditure on fair trade, ethical, organic, ‘healthy’ and natural products. This offers opportunities to ' premiumise’ and move price points beyond £4.99 for wine for example, where 84% of sales currently occur.

This combined with technical advances allowing better tasting low alcohol products offer brand extension opportunities mid week and lunchtime offerings. Consumer demand for 'healthier options' have led multiples and the on trade to extend their 'low and no alcohol ranges and profile'.

HC - Forum opening and introduction of the issues under scrutiny

Restrictions on innovation

Helena Conibear and Richard Hitchcock discussed the legal restrictions on innovation. At present wines below 8.5 abv cannot be marketed as wine, wines of European origin that have had alcohol reduced cannot be sold in the UK.

There are also legal and code restrictions as to mentioning 'healthy' leading to issues with low alcohol, low carb or lower calorie developments. Coors were cited as an example where a 2 % beer, C2 was subject to complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority for promoting its consumption after sport or at lunchtime - the complaints were not upheld, however. Hitchcock said that innovative products were their 'lifeblood', with new product development accounting for 25% of Bottlegreen profits each year.

Conibear highlighted the cautionary tale of the RTD in a market driven by convenience, which ticked many CSR boxes in that they are lower in alcohol at 4-6% abv than a standard spirit and mixer (approximately 13%), they are single serve and therefore allow consumers to monitor their unit consumption more easily and they are comparatively more expensive than spirits and mixers bought separately in store. Yet the category has been heavily criticised for being attractive to underage or drinkers and as cynically exploiting the 'sweet tooth'. Similar issues could arise with other innovations.

 RH - The importance of engaging smaller players - can we make a difference?

Moving beyond price promotion

Giles Fisher of The John Lewis Partnership presented on the issue of consumer trust - one definition of trust being given as ' the state of being responsible for someone or something’. Conibear had already tackled the issue of public trust, which rates very low for the alcohol industry - below petro chemical companies and on a par with GM crops and marginally above tobacco. Beyond the public health issues, the industry needs to ask itself why the public is so cynical of its objectives.

The Partnership constitution 'aims to deal honestly with its customers and secure their loyalty and trust by providing outstanding choice, value and service'. The group do not see a need to sell alcoholic products below cost, building interest instead through their magazines, food matchings and specialised staff in the wine, beer and spirits departments, initiatives that have helped the Group lead WHICH reports on consumer satisfaction and customers service.

However, Fisher acknowledges that there is no doubt that sales performance across the multiple retailers during Christmas 2007, shows a correlation between strong overall sales growth and below cost promotional activity on alcohol, making it a difficult option for other multiples to abandon. This, together with the ' competition issue’, recently highlighted by Tesco if minimum pricing was discussed between multiples, as well as volume led targets and 'price matching' promises between competitors makes price and multibuy led promotion a complex issue not easily resolved.

Building on consumer’s trust with a long-term successful strategy

The on trade - survival no room for innovation or creativity - Recognition - no relaxation

Simon Kaye of Regent Inns highlighted their quandary and position as winners of multiple awards - (UK's most responsible venue 2006, 'Best Bar None Award' in 19 venues with no failures in accreditation and 100% success rate in AMEC4 Home Office test purchase campaign, only one of two companies).

In line with their licensing requirement their responsibilities include, Crime and Disorder, Public Safety, the Prevention of Nuisance and the Protection of Children. The cumulative impact of ensuring the above, has included the need to install CCTV, noise meters, fire alarm upgrades, to invest in plastic glassware, to employ test purchasers and to spend 4.5% of gross turnover on door staff for example. Kaye argues the costs of the above coupled with revenue lost due to the smoking ban and their turning away of 5000 potential customers each week due to lack of valid ID or their intoxication means profitability across the sector is questionable. This is reflected in the closure of 7.5% of nightclubs in 2007 and 27 pubs a week. Kaye asks for a period of consolidation to allow them to embed existing policy rather than more regulation and initiatives such as Alcohol Disorder Zones.

At the coal face: how accountable for individual behaviour can the on trade be?

Ian Harris, Chief Executive, Wine & Spirit Education Trust spoke about the importance of education and role of the WSET in producing responsible ambassadors for the industry through their educational programmes which address issues of social responsibility . The WSET is the biggest provider of education and qualifications in the field of wine and spirits, active in 41 countries.

The importance of education, understanding the key issues and creating responsible
ambassadors for the industry globally

Helena Conibear concluded that 'The safe and enjoyable use of alcohol, in a way that enhances positive social values and reduces harm in any community', is the ultimate goal of alcohol policy and of the beverage alcohol industry

Three essential elements are needed to do this successfully - that is a legal framework - which may include legislation on the legal drinking age, blood alcohol concentration levels, licensing, advertising, and taxation. The development of Informal controls which incorporate industry self-regulation, inherent social and cultural norms, the role of the community and the family. Plus respecting the rights and responsibilities of individuals, whilst providing the information necessary for them to make responsible choices as individuals or parents. The synergy of these three components-taking into account the perspectives of all those involved, from producers to marketers to retailers to regulators to consumers-is most likely to result in an effective policy of responsible drinks marketing that encourages a culture of safety and moderation.