There is a belief that irresponsible promotions are destroying the image of the drinks industry. Michelle Perrett asks what's being done about it?
It's 9.30pm on a Friday night and after downing a load of shots at the local bar a teenager is vomiting on a street corner.
Although this is not an image that responsible operators in the pub trade want to be associated with, it is one that badly-run drinks promotions can easily cause.
Many fear that irresponsible promotions, such as those that offer a flat-rate entry fee to drink as much as you like, are at risk of destroying the image of the trade which is often blamed for problems of binge-drinking and public disorder.
In a revolutionary move to protect the whole industry, drinks giant Diageo has taken a strong stance against these types of drinks promotions. It believes that a small minority of companies are giving the whole trade a bad reputation and argues that unless the industry acts, it could face legislation from the government.
Speaking at the British Institute of Innkeeping annual lunch, Steve Gannon, commercial managing director of Diageo GB, said: "Alcohol is a unique product and those who advertise, promote and sell it have a responsibility, especially at a time when there are more calls for regulation.
"We can all think of irresponsible promotions. We want to encourage debate to get to a stage where the industry works together collectively."
Speaking at the same event, John Grogan, MP for Selby and chair of the liquor licensing reform panel of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group, called for a code for retail promotions to be implemented similar to that of The Portman Group's code on the marketing and advertising of drinks.
He highlighted pub company Mitchells & Butlers' alcohol and social responsibility policy as setting the standard for the industry. The calls were also backed by John McNamara, chief executive of the British Institute of Inkeeping.
So would a code for retailers work? And would it cost the industry financially?
The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has already launched its own guidelines for licensees on running promotions. Mark Hastings, spokesman for the BBPA, said: "We believe our code of practice already goes 95 per cent of the way there and we are looking at strengthening our guidance at the moment.
"The one thing that will affect businesses will be if the government regulates if we don't improve our practices."
Bob Cartwright, spokesman for Mitchells & Butlers, agrees.
"It's all a question of running responsible promotions. Our policy reminds everyone about the key basic elements of not serving intoxicated customers and under-18s," he said. "If we don't drive self-regulation we could see increased legislation."
Only last month, trade associations across the UK and Ireland united in calling on licensees to stop putting on drinks promotions that could encourage binge-drinking in any way.
Last year the industry managed to fight off proposals in Europe that would have brought an end to all price-led promotions on alcoholic drinks and happy hours.
However, local councils such as Middlesbrough and Perth & Kinross are already putting their own pressure on the trade by insisting that they meet minimum prices for drinks or face restrictions on their licences.
But it should not be forgotten that well-run promotions can be a good way to help the industry to boost custom during quiet periods as well as help raise product awareness.
According to the latest poll on thePublican.com, 66 per cent of licensees think that stamping out irresponsible promotions would be good for the industry, while only seven per cent think it could be detrimental to trade.
Drinks company Interbrew UK has also pledged its support to curtail the use of these promotions. In a statement it said: "The industry needs to work together to actively promote socially-responsible drinking."
At a time when the drinks industry is under scrutiny over the new Licensing Bill can the trade really afford not to act?
The Mitchells & Butlers policy
The company will not undertake any of the following promotions:
- any promotion that involves an initial payment to obtain reduced-price alcohol
- promotions that involve drinking games, such as the "yard of ale"
- promotions involving larger quantities, such as "five drinks for the price of four"
- promotions that involve quantities of "free drinks" that are redeemed immediately by individuals in one session
- promotions that involve driving in any way, including cars as prizes
- any promotion of draught beer at under £1-a-pint must have company approval
- designated driver and other anti-drink-drive activities are encouraged by competitive soft drinks prices at all times. Tap water is always free of charge
- price lists with ABVs are on display
- Mitchells & Butlers uses toughened glass extremely widely in its outlets.
(Extract from Mitchells & Butlers' alcohol and social responsibility policy)
The BBPA guidelines
The British Beer & Pub Association suggests that pub owners and licensees:
- provide food and snacks during early-evening happy hours as people are likely to be drinking on an empty stomach
- stretch happy hours over a longer period to discourage people from binge-drinking
- avoid drinking games that have a speed incentive
- entry fees entitling customers to free or reduced price drinks should be avoided
- include soft drinks during happy hours
- promotional activity for alcoholic drinks should comply with British codes of advertising and sales promotions and with relevant parts of The Portman Group code of practice.
Further information is available on the BBPA website: www.beerandpub.com
Industry slams drinks promotions (15 May 2003)