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Comment - Pernod Ricard's Portman Group penalty - a coincidence?

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Pernod Ricard has become the latest company to clash with the Portman Group, the UK's drinks industry watchdog. 

The group now has nine funding members, since the C&C Group left last month

The group now has nine funding members, since the C&C Group left last month

The French wine and spirits giant this week fell foul of the body's marketing code over its Pernod aniseed spirit. The company is not amused. Though it has agreed to amend the product's packaging, Pernod wailed that a notice urging retailers not to order the spirit in its current form was “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”. 

Can anything be deduced from the fact that it is the French group - one of the nine compaines that fund the Portman Group - that is now in the watchdog's firing line? 

The Portman Group has an image problem, and it is not only among foul-mouthed, sneering Scottish craft brewers. Last month, Irish drinks firm C&C Group left the group. It had given a year's notice, so the watchdog was keen to point out this was not a sudden decision. Nevetheless, one of the reasons C&C reportedly gave for its departure was that it believes the Portman Group is now “dominated by large multi-national drink companies with an agenda at odds with the wider UK industry”.

This is a familiar criticism. 

But to answer my question, I would suggest that a link cannot be drawn between C&C's comments, or BrewDog's rant, and the Portman Group suddenly finding fault with one of its “multi-national” funders. 

When I interviewed the Portman Group's chief executive, Henry Ashworth, in May, he was keen to stress that its independent complaints panel is exactly as its moniker says. That is, it makes its decisions completely independent of the group. Indeed, the chair of the panel is also head of the UK's Electoral Commission.

Four other producers were found in breach of marketing rules in the group's latest round of rulings - three of them not funders of the body. The fourth was Anheuser-Busch InBev, which does pay into the group's coffers.

With alcohol-related issues set to remain on the UK political agenda ahead of next year's General Election, drinks producers may yet be thankful of such a strident self-regulatory system.

The alternative would undoutedly be far worse.


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