Blog: Chris Brook-CarterUnder seige

Chris Brook-Carter | 12 October 2004


There is no doubt in my mind that hostility towards the drinks industry (from soft drinks to alcopops) has increased significantly in the last year, particularly in Western Europe, but in other major markets too. French drink driving laws, German taxes, WHO reports into alcohol and sugar related illnesses have all done their bit to direct the media’s hostile eye towards our industry.

In the UK, the war of words is escalating. The BBC’s flagship news documentary Panorama reported in the last week that a United Nations agency has launched an investigation into claims that a key consultation into how much sugar we should be eating was secretly funded by the sugar industry. And, then on Sunday, Sussex chief constable Ken Jones, one of three candidates to replace outgoing Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir John Stevens, said that off-licences, nightclubs and pubs should be forced to stop discounting alcohol and pay for the policing  of the UK’s town centres at weekends.

Interestingly Jones’ remarks came only a day after Diageo asked the government for an  anti-binge drinking ad campaign, using the same shock tactics as the hard-hitting drink-drive adverts.

The drinks industry, singled out in this way for both anti-social behaviour (alcohol) and rising obesity (soft drinks) is of course a scapegoat. However, as part of a wider solution to both ills, drinks producers do have a case to answer.

But producers such as Diageo, for example, are in an awkward position. The RTD sector, which is largely seen as being responsible for the binging, is too profitable for them to axe - but the big pub chains are continue to offer special deals that help increase binge drinking.

Furthermore, even though Jones' proposals are directed essentially at retailers, any rise in the temperature of the debate will hit the drinks producers equally as hard or possibly even more severely than the pub operators.

There was a time when drinks manufacturers to a degree sat on their hands when it came to the abuses and excesses of retailers. Those days have clearly passed. Encouraging a government campaign is a good start but major producers such as Diageo have to get more involved in tackling the abuses of their products at the point of consumption because ultimately they will bear the brunt of negative publicity.

Diageo should be applauded for taking the initiative but the industry needs to continue to experiment with solution without seriously damaging sales.


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