The brewery has been forced to make a change to the designs of its award-winning red ale, after the panel ruled the packaging indirectly encouraged immoderate consumption of alcohol.
In a statement on its website, Tiny Rebel said the ruling has cost the brewery “five months of work, nearly £30,000 in costs, and a fair bit of stress,” and claimed ignoring rulings from The Portman Group could “cripple a small business financially.”
“We would never have thought that one member of the public, an industry body funded by the likes of ABInBev, Carlsberg and Diageo, and a complaints panel made up of 10 people could cause this much damage to a brand,” the brewery said.
Wider concerns over design changes
Pointing out that a single complaint should not be the basis of a wholesale change to design, Tiny Rebel added: “It forces companies to be over-cautious in design, which is inherently limiting. Instead of designing something that consumers would like, companies have to design bearing in mind what the most prudish among us wouldn’t like.”
The brewery said that although The Portman Group were “sometimes referred to as ‘voluntary’”, compliance with its codes is mandatory, and hence the company has Tiny Rebel “over a barrel commercially”.
Explaining the process if a producer ignores a ruling by The Portman Group, Tiny Rebel said: “If the producer does not commit to the suggested changes in the given time frame, The Portman Group will release a Retail Alert Bulletin (RAB).
An RAB is sent to all subscribers and signatories of the The Portman Group's Code of Practice, which includes most of the country’s major on- and off-trade retailers. It identifies the product that does not comply with the Code and demands that it not be stocked. Any Code signatories that do not comply with this demand are threatened with being expelled from the list of Code signatories.
“They have no option," adds Tiny Rebel. "No company is going to risk the negative press that comes from being booted from the country’s ‘leading alcohol responsibility body’ for the sake of stocking one brand. There is no conversation, no negotiation. Just an immediate halt.”
Just one complaint to The Portman Group is sufficient to trigger the body’s complaints process. However, this is in line with other regulatory bodies such as the ASA and Ofcom, which also operate on a single complaint basis.
If a member of the public is the complainant, then they will remain anonymous throughout the whole process. However, a complainant associated with the industry is required to be named, so as to avoid any potential conflicts of interests.
Complaints are considered by an independent panel, before either being upheld or rejected.
Small brewers' influence needed
Tiny Rebel said it would not be “going after The Portman Group” over the ruling, but suggested the organisation needed to do more to listen to the voices of smaller brewers.
“One complaint can’t be the basis of this change,” it said. “A system like that is open to abuse, which wastes our time, and that of the regulator, who have genuinely important stuff to be getting on with.
“The Portman Group is meant to be a self-regulatory body, but we don’t see a ‘craft’, indie or microbrewery on the list of funders, consultants or the panel. Advice is from a massively limited cross-section of society. The voice of small brewers is only heard when they’re defending themselves.”
Responding to Tiny Rebel’s statement, The Portman Group chief executive John Timothy said: “We welcome Tiny Rebel’s confirmation that they will implement the agreed changes to their Cwtch can to comply with the Code, following the Independent Complaints Panel’s ruling.”
Tiny Rebel’s full statement, and a breakdown of the costs the ruling has imposed on the brewery, can be found on its website.