Blog: Chris Brook-CarterTrial by media

Chris Brook-Carter | 28 October 2004

The media attention surrounding the drink industry in the UK continued last night with a half-hour documentary from the BBC’s Money Programme, entitled The Booze Business: Consuming Spirit.

Aside from covering the difficult position the drinks industry finds itself in - squeezed between the need to please shareholders and the increasing pressure to promote responsible drinking (and therefore reduced sales) - not much new ground was covered.

What was painfully apparent, however, was that the industry had few reasonable answers to the allegation that it is ineffectively combating the problems of binge drinking.

Certainly, the public that were interviewed for the show said that they got no sense the drinks industry wanted them to drink less.

The MD of Urbium, which owns chains like Tiger Tiger, defended his company’s use of Happy Hour by suggesting that punters used it to have a couple of drinks after work and then get the train home around 7.30pm. I am sure that some do drink this way. I am equally as sure, however, that many use it as a platform to continue drinking into the night – particularly towards the end of the week.

Meanwhile, the shot market was defended by a producer who suggested that shots are consumed by groups who like to compare the taste of the drinks, rather than out of any desire to get drunk. If the drinks industry wants to defend a category now worth £100m in the UK, it’s going to have to come up with a more plausible argument than that.

An interview with the boss of pub group JD Weatherspoon highlighted the difficult position the drinks industry is in. The group, which owns 640 pubs, has changed some of its promotions, dropped the price of soft drinks and lowered the alcohol content of its cocktails. However, as its CEO admitted, these changes have hit the bottom line.

Interestingly, this programme was aired in the same week that drinks industry executives are meeting in London with WHO officials and other alcohol and health organisations to try and establish a best-practise policy for encouraging responsible drinking. Let’s hope they come out with something positive, because the current defence against all this bad publicity is seriously lacking clout.

For more on the BBC programme, click here


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