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12th December 2023

Upheld complaints more than double in 2023, with rise in alcohol products found to have particular appeal to under-18s

The Portman Group’s Independent Complaints Panel (ICP) upheld more than double the amount of complaints in 2023 compared with the previous year, with products subject to upheld complaints most commonly found to have breached the Code for having a particular appeal to under-18s.

This year 13 complaints were upheld and four not upheld, compared with five complaints which were upheld in 2022 and 16 not upheld.

However, the overall number of complaints received was down from 60 in 2022 to 42 in 2023.

There was a rise in upheld complaints this year concerning alcohol products found in breach of Code Rule 3.2 (h) – which requires that a drink’s naming, packaging and any promotional material or activity does not, in any direct or indirect way, have a particular appeal to under-18s.

Nearly half of the cases considered by the ICP this year were upheld under this rule, compared with three in 2022. Examples in 2023 include Carbon Crush IPA which featured wrap around comic book cartoons and Tiny Rebel’s ‘PRIMED’ beer which employed the same font, colour, flavour and style as the hydration soft drink popular with children.

This year the Portman Group revised Code Rule 3.2(h) and accompanying guidance to bolster protection for under-18s following a public consultation. The amended rule now explicitly prohibits brand names, logos and trademarks on merchandise which has particular appeal to under-18s or is intended for use primarily by under-18s and prevents any link between alcohol and childhood.

Producers who are unsure of the requirements under the Code or have any questions in this area are strongly encouraged to make use of the Portman Group’s free and confidential Advisory Service. This year, the regulatory team have received over 300 requests for advice through the service and 98% of these were answered within 48 hours.

This year there were also five complaints upheld under Code rule 3.2(f) which states that a drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way encourage illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption, such as drink-driving, binge-drinking or drunkenness. Five complaints were also upheld under Code rule 3.2(j) which states alcohol products should not suggest they have therapeutic qualities, can enhance mental or physical capabilities, or change mood or behaviour.

Three complaints were upheld under Code rule 3.2(b) which states that alcohol products should not suggest any association with bravado, or with violent, aggressive, dangerous, anti-social or illegal behaviour, with two cases upheld for linking directly to guns (Cosa Nostra and AU Vodka Gold Gang Money Gun). Three complaints were also upheld under Code rule 3.3 which states a drink’s name, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not cause serious or widespread offence.

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group said: “While we have seen a significant rise in upheld complaints this year, it is reassuring as the alcohol industry’s self-regulator to see robust decisions being made by the Panel and irresponsible and inappropriate products being removed from the market as a result, in turn driving industry change and protecting consumers.

“It is encouraging that for all of the cases upheld for having a particular appeal to under-18s, the producers in question took immediate action to remove the products from the market following the decisions of the Panel, demonstrating the efficiency of the self-regulatory model and the industry’s commitment to improving standards and marketing responsibly.

“Our primary purpose is to protect consumers from harm, particularly those who may be vulnerable, so a fundamental priority is protecting those who are under-18, and as such we have bolstered our guidance and amended our Code this year to provide even further clarity to producers.

“I would encourage all producers who are unsure of the requirements under the Code to contact the Portman Group’s free and confidential Advisory Service.”

For more information contact:

Notes to editors

  1. A spokesperson is available for interviews upon request.
  2. The Portman Group was formed in 1989. It is the alcohol industry regulator and social responsibility body. It has over 160 Code signatories from producers, retailers and membership bodies.
  3. The Portman Group is funded by 19 member and associate member companies: Asahi UK Ltd; Aston Manor Cider; Bacardi; Beam Suntory; Brown-Forman; Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I; Campari; C&C; Diageo GB; Edrington UK; Heineken UK; Mark Anthony Brands International; Mast-Jäegermeister UK; Molson Coors Beverage Company; Pernod Ricard UK; Punch Pubs & Co; SHS Drinks; Thatchers’; and Treasury Wine Estates.
  4. The Code of Practice for the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks was first published in 1996. In 2021, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Code. The Code seeks to ensure that alcohol is promoted in a socially responsible way, only to those aged 18 and over, and in a way that does not appeal particularly to those who are vulnerable. The Code has helped create an industry that works effectively within the context of a self-regulatory model, while encouraging design, innovation and creativity. This has been done in an effective, responsive and inexpensive way.
  • Effectively – over 170 products have been amended or removed from the market. Many hundreds more have been helped to adhere to the Code before appearing on shelves through the support of the Advisory Service;
  • Responsively – there have been five updates to the Code over 25 years responding to changes in public attitudes and expanding its reach; all without recourse to Government or Parliamentary time;
  • Inexpensively – the leading members of the industry are currently funding the model for all to be protected at no cost to the public purse.

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