Industry code for alcopops

Alcopops will come in smaller cans and taste a little less potent this summer as the liquor industry responds to government demands to set limits on the strength of RTDs.

When alcohol reforms passed into law a year ago, the industry was told to introduce a voluntary code for selling the sugary, spirit-based drinks or the Government would consider regulation.

Manufacturers have now drawn up a set of rules, which include a maximum strength of 7% alcohol or two standard drinks per bottle or can.

Because companies had to stop producing drinks stronger than this in September, stocks are likely to be exhausted by this month or February.

The new limits affected half the RTDs sold in New Zealand and required manufacturers to change their containers and ingredients.

''There were some extensive costs,'' Distillers Association head Robert Brewer said.

''But at the end of the day, it was agreed that this was necessary.''

The code has been signed off by liquor industry giants Bacardi, Diageo, Independent Liquor and others, and the changes will affect popular products such as Woodstock Bourbon and Jim Beam. Under the new limits, a 440ml can of Woodstock Bourbon will shrink to 430ml and its alcohol level will fall from 8% to 6%.

The code also set limits on the amount of caffeine, required labels to clearly display the number of standard drinks in a can, and banned advertising which appealed to minors.

The alcohol limits in the code are more lenient than those originally suggested by the Government. Alcohol law reforms initially gave the Government power to ban RTDs stronger than 5% or 1.5 standard drinks. Justice Minister Judith Collins later raised this limit to 6% before scrapping the provision in favour of an industry-led code. The debate occurred before last month's controversy over alcohol sachets which contain a single shot of a flavoured alcopop with 20% or more alcohol content. The products, branded Cheeky and Sneaky, are the cheapest single drink on sale, at just $2.

Police, alcohol action groups and event organisers have labelled the products ''disturbing'' amidst fears they will be used to top up drinks in bars, be smuggled into venues or used to spike drinks.

The voluntary code targeted RTDs because they were believed to be associated with harmful drinking, in particular among young women. The industry disputed this, and research it commissioned showed that men aged over 40 were the biggest consumers of high-strength alcopops. The research also said that if high-strength alcopops were banned, consumers would move to even stronger, self-mixed drinks.

The stricter rules come as RTD sales begin to drop.

Industry representatives said the consumption of RTDs, which once claimed about 15% of the alcohol market share, was waning.

Mr Brewer said cider sales were massively increasing, in particular among the demographic which consumed RTDs.

''Cider as a category is going gangbusters.''

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