Laverstoke refuses to comply with ruling over 'childish' beer labels

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Portman group Beer

Laverstoke Park Farm’s Organic Ale is still available on the producer’s website with the same labelling, priced at £19.99 for a case of 12 330ml bottles
Laverstoke Park Farm’s Organic Ale is still available on the producer’s website with the same labelling, priced at £19.99 for a case of 12 330ml bottles
Laverstoke Park Farm is refusing to comply with what it calls an 'ill-informed and unjustified' ruling by The Portman Group to change the labelling of its bottles of beer and ale after the products were deemed to potentially appeal to children.

Laverstoke's Organic Ale, brewed under licence for the Hampshire-based farm, were seen to contravene The Portman Group’s Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drink.

A High Court judge has since rejected Laverstoke Park's challenge to the Independent Complaints Panel's decision, describing it as ‘devoid of merit’.

But Laverstoke’s founder Jody Scheckter insists that changing the ale and lager labelling is ‘not a viable option’, having spent over £30,000 on legal fees.

“It is not just the cost of the change (it would cost the farm tens of thousands of pounds in rebranding) but the loss of our brand identity in having our iconic Mr Laverstoke taken off the bottle.

One single complaint

“The Portman Group contested that he cannot appear much more significantly than he does on the bottle cap which is 4mm.

"We have been selling Laverstoke Park beer and ale for over five years.  During that time we have only had one single complaint, this was received by the Portman Group.

“Importantly I must state that if I personally thought for one minute that our label was encouraging under-18s to drink, I would look at it differently. I simply do not agree that is the case.  

“Our product is not sold as an alcopop and contest that teenagers would find the branding hip or trendy enough to purchase.”

Unjustified views

The Farm has used this same image of 'Mr Laverstoke' on a range of its products

As a result of the ruling, all publicans and retailers signed up to Portman's Code have been told they can no longer sell Laverstoke Park Farm's 5% abv ale and 4.5% abv lager until the labels are changed.

But the Farm, which has sold 170,000 bottles of the beers carrying the label over the past five years, says in its defence that it used the same image on a range of its products, from cheeses to meat and soft drinks and it was meant to create an 'adult, joyful and honest feel to the products' as well as represent its ethical food production message.

“As a structure, the Portman Group is independent,” added Scheckter. “This means that they are not accountable to anyone or need to supply qualitative and or quantitative evidence to support their rulings.  

“I have had to waste a huge amount of time and money on this whole mess and I am angry that a body with no legislative power can just come along and make arbitrary decisions that we, a small producer, are then left with the consequences of, in my opinion, ill-informed and unjustified views.

“So, until the alcohol companies which sponsor the Portman Group and the multiples put pressure on them to remedy their rules or interpret them in accordance with the ASA regulations  and also in accordance with the original aims of Portman Group, I believe they will carry on making decisions that have nothing to do with promoting responsible drinking.

“If the multiples stop selling our beer as a consequence, I respect and accept their position."

Portman Group response

In response to Scheckter’s comments, a Portman Group spokesperson told BigHospitality: “There has already been a clear ruling by an experienced High Court judge rejecting Laverstoke Park's challenge to the Independent Complaints Panel's decision.

“The judge also recognised the reasoning of the Panel in making its decision as 'impeccable'.

“Unlike many responsible producers, Mr Scheckter refuses to work with the Portman Group's free Advisory Service to ensure Laverstoke's beer labels comply with the rules. The Advisory Service will continue to be available to him.

“There are strict rules ensuring alcohol is not marketed in a way that appeals to children. The Panel ruled that the child's drawing used to market Laverstoke's ale and lager was completely unacceptable for use on an alcoholic drinks' label. The rules apply to all producers and there are no exceptions.

Similar incidents

Dark Conspiracy beer, brewed by Ramsgate Brewery, breached alcohol responsibility rules by featuring famous East End gangsters the Kray twins on its pump clips.

“In his ruling Justice Walker was clear on this point. He said the notion that rule 3.2(h) is concerned only with adolescents, 'flies in the face of the words used and is contrary to common sense. It is highly desirable that the packaging of alcoholic drinks should not particularly appeal to children.'

“Mr Scheckter seems to think there should be one rule for him and another for everybody else."

Laverstoke Park Farm’s Organic Ale is still available on the producer’s website with the same labelling, priced at £19.99 for a case of 12 330ml bottles.

This case follows similar incidents involving Brewdog and Ramsgate Brewery who were both ordered to change the packaging for their Tokyo and Dark Conspiracy beers after they were found in breach of the Code.

Can you still serve the product?

The enforcement section (5.7) of The Portman Group's Code of Practice states: "If a retailer continues to stock a product or display point-of-sale material which has been found in breach of the Code by the Independent Complaints Panel, the Code Secretariat may notify the relevant licensing authority and request it to take this into account, subject to legal requirements, when considering whether to grant, transfer, renew or revoke licences.

"The Portman Group may also notify the Government, trading standards officers and the media about a retailer’s failure to support the decision of the Independent Complaints Panel."

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