Keeping up with the code

22 February, 2008

Portman Group to perform random checks on off-licence products

Drinks industry watchdog the Portman Group has appointed a management consultancy to conduct random checks of drinks on sale at off-licences.

The move is part of the Portman Group's increasingly active role in making sure

alcohol is marketed responsibly. Previously

it relied on members of the public to register complaints.

Consultants will also visit bars and pubs and scour websites over the next two weeks to check that labelling and marketing of drinks is compliant with the

group's Code of Practice.

Five hundred products will be bought and measured against the code in the first audit of this kind. Drinks companies found to have breached the code will be allowed six months to change their marketing or risk being investigated by


Portman Group's independent complaints panel.

The group's chief executive, David Poley, said he hoped the move would help to strengthen public confidence in drinks marketing.

"The industry is responding to public concern about alcohol misuse by making sure that its house is in order. No other European regulator has instigated such a stringent audit of standards. We are ­determined to ensure that drinks producer activity remains beyond reproach," he said.

Drinks producers welcomed the new approach. Steve Perez, managing director of VK Vodka Kick producer Global Brands, said: "A stringent audit which provides greater clarity to manufacturers and further advises them on correct codes of conduct can only be a good thing for the sector.

"We feel confident this audit will prove productive in the long term and extremely helpful to the industry as a whole."

Kate Blakeley, head of social responsibility at Diageo, also said she backed the audit and was "looking forward to the results ".

Last year the watchdog received seven complaints , of which five were upheld.

The Portman Group's code advises drinks producers not to market alcohol to under-18s or encourage rapid or down-in-one drinking.

The alcohol content of a drink must be made clear on the label, but its alcoholic strength should not be dominant. It also advises against any association with illegal drugs, bravado, aggression or antisocial behaviour, and

links with sexual success or increased popularity

are also banned.

The Portman Group is searching for its first independent chair "to help lead alcohol responsibility action and debate on behalf of some of the country's biggest alcohol producers". The industry-funded group has appointed headhunters to identify candidates with political and boardroom experience. The role is expected to be a two-day -a-week commitment.

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