Friday, 6 February 2009

A cloud on the horizon?

I can’t say I could work up much outrage over Government proposals to get manufacturers to make, and shops to sell, smaller chocolate bars, crisp packets and fizzy drink cans. So long as the bigger ones are still available, where’s the problem? And even if they’re not, you can still eat or drink two. It would certainly be a step forward if motorway service areas were required to sell normal-sized packets of crisps and 330ml cans of soft drink instead of just 55g “grab-bags” and 500ml bottles, both of which are far too big for a child.

The same applies to measures and pack sizes of alcoholic drinks – if they’re not big enough for you, you can always have another one. Indeed I’ve argued in the past that pubs should offer the choice of 125ml wine glasses, as a 175ml glass of Chardonnay contains more alcohol than a pint of bitter, and that the brewers of 9% ABV super-strength lagers might be well advised to sell them in 330ml cans rather than 500ml. It might be a good idea too for more pubs, especially the beer exhibition-type ones, to offer draught beer in third-pint glasses.

However, it’s entirely possible that this kind of arm-twisting of food and drink manufacturers could have a more pernicious side. Might a future government seek to “persuade” brewers to reduce the strength of widely-available beers in the interest of public health? It’s not hard to imagine a gentlemen’s agreement to reduce the strength of all those 5% lagers by 10% to 4.5%, and indeed 4.5% becoming a de facto maximum strength for draught beers. Where would that then leave all the speciality cask beers of higher strength than this? It may seem far-fetched, but things that once seemed even more far-fetched have actually come to pass. So if it does happen, remember that you read it here first.


  1. The arm-twisting on food and drink has almost certainly begun. These are just the first small steps.

    The wonder of the internet is to be able to see the whole passive smoking journey on the BBC web archives. From quirky 'science' in the 90s through to it being considered as dangerous as Sarin gas now, hence the over-the-top smoking ban.

    Fast forward a decade from now, and if they are allowed to continue this path unchecked, I can seriously see swipe cards for pub customers to restrict consumption to 21 units per week. And the same kind of scheme for foodstuffs.

  2. A bigger possibility is a legal requirement to print the unit values on glasswear. Possibly leading to pressure to standardize abv as either 4%, 5% and little else.

  3. Alex,

    I'm not sure of that, as glasses are used for a variety of drinks. It's not uncommon to see Guinness glasses being used for mild and bitter, for example. However, I can see it becoming commonplace on specific branded glassware.

    What is more likely, and which you hint at, is government pressure to standardise the strength of draught beer, and also reduce it a bit across the board.


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