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UK: Phusion Projects courts new controversy as Four Loko ruled "irresponsible"

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Phusion Projects is facing fresh criticism over its Four Loko brand after the UK's industry watchdog ruled that the alcoholic drink's name breached packaging rules.

The Portman Group said earlier this week that the name Loko was too similar to “loco” and could be interpreted as “crazy” or “off one's head”. The group said the name broke alcohol responsibility rules for encouraging irresponsible consumption and told licensees and retailers not to stock the item after 27 May.

Phusion launched the 12% abv fruit-flavoured Four Loko in the US in 2005. The brand has courted controversy, with criticism that its high alcohol content and large, 23.5oz cans encourage irresponsible drinking. 

Four Loko used to be marketed as an alcoholic energy drink but Phusion removed its caffeine, guarana and taurine content in 2010 after pressure from regulators.

Responding to the Portman Group's decision, Phusion president Jim Sloan said: "We respectfully disagree... Phusion Projects has made clear from the outset that the ‘Four Loko’ brand name was intended to refer to the product’s unusual flavours and its four original ingredients. We are a responsible producer of alcoholic beverages and actively discourage any irresponsible consumption of our products."

The Portman Group said Phusion Projects is working with its advisory service to change the UK packaging.

Henry Ashworth, chief executive of the Portman Group, said: “Marketing an alcoholic drink which could in any way encourage irresponsible or immoderate consumption is not allowed under UK marketing codes and producers must be particularly vigilant. In this case, the panel ruled that the way the product was currently packaged, together with its brand feel, was too closely associated with irresponsible drinking.”

To read the Portman Group's ruling, click here.

This article was updated on 28 February to include Phusion president Jim Sloan's comments.


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