DISCUS Revises Marketing Code to Reduce Risk of Underage Purchase of Crossover Products

Is there a risk that when a soft drink producer licenses its brand name to a beverage alcohol company – or enters into a joint venture with a bev/al producer – that consumers might buy the product, thinking it's something other than an alcoholic beverage?

You bet.  And with that in mind, Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. issued guidance on the responsible advertising, marketing and merchandizing of alcohol crossover products.  

The guidance includes recommendations for suppliers to ensure that crossover brand products abide by the Code provisions, including advertisements directed to legal drinking age adults and the use of packaging and branding that is clearly and easily distinguishable from their non-alcohol beverage counterparts.  The document also includes recommendations for retailers for responsibly merchandising and selling these products.

But the guidance can fail if retailers put the alcohol version of, say,  lemon-lime soda, next to the nonalcoholic version.  "Our retail tier partners have the responsibility and control over how products are presented to consumers for sale,” said Armour.  “To avoid any consumer confusion, we encourage retailers to train their employees on these crossover products and take measures to ensure they are merchandised in a manner that makes it clear that they contain alcohol and are only marketed and sold to legal drinking age adults.”

Here are suggested responsible marketing practices for suppliers:

  • Packaging and branding should be clearly and easily distinguishable from non-alcohol beverage counterparts.  
  • Review packaging and advertising campaigns to ensure that they primarily appeal to legal drinking age adults, and not to individuals under the age of 21.
  • Information of product labels, packaging and promotional materials should make it clear it contains alcohol, such as prominently displaying the type of alcohol in the product, the percentage of alcohol by volume, general notices the product contains alcohol and/or inclusion in statement of composition.  
  • Review packaging and advertising campaigns to ensure that they comply with all other Code provisions, including the Responsible Placement and Content provisions.

And here are the suggested best practices for retailers:

  • Do not display or promote crossover brand products in a manner that could create confusion with the non-alcohol beverage counterpart. If necessary, identify to consumers that the crossover brand product contains alcohol.
  • Crossover brand products should not be displayed or promoted in areas that may primarily appeal to children, such as a toy aisle.  
  • Ensure retail outlet employees can differentiate crossover brand products from their non-alcohol beverage counterparts.  
  • If feasible, program crossover brand product barcodes to indicate that they contain alcohol when they are scanned at checkout so that the retail outlet employee confirms that the consumer is of legal drinking age