Saturday, 27 August 2011

Responsibility or appeasement?

If you were running any kind of business, you would obviously, unless you were a crook, want to do so in a responsible manner. So, if you were running a brewery, what would you do? You would aim to comply with all relevant legislation, to be open about what ingredients you were using, not to hold out your products as something they weren’t, not to sell or promote them to minors, and not to advertise them in a way that implied they might contribute to sexual success or would get you drunk quicker. You would recognise that you were selling a product that a small minority of customers might abuse, but provided your business was conducted in an open, legal and above-the-board manner, that would be their responsibility, not yours. If your business was successful and well-established, you might even contribute a bit towards programmes to rehabilitate alcoholics, but that wouldn’t mean that you accepted blame for their problems.

However, Stefan Orlowski, the Managing Director of Heineken UK, doesn’t seem to think that goes far enough. He believes that his industry needs to actively engage with health professionals in an attempt to reduce alcohol misuse.

But, in accepting the health professionals’ definition of alcohol misuse, he is batting on a losing wicket from the start. They believe he is involved not in a legitimate business but in a “toxic trade”. There can never be any final settlement with them. Every concession granted will only be met with a demand for more. He only needs to look at the tobacco industry to see the likely outcome.

He prints on all his bottles and cans the made-up “official guidelines” on safe drinking levels. But he knows that a large proportion of his customers cheerfully ignore these, and if they all followed them to the letter, the pub trade would be devastated and the British brewing and distilling industries grievously harmed.

Perhaps he is being clever and playing a long game in the belief that, given time, the neo-Prohibitionist threat will abate, as it did in the past. But the example of tobacco is not encouraging. Is a prolonged managed decline and surrender to restriction the best future that can be expected? Maybe the long-term interests of the drinks industry would be better served by adopting a more robust and combative stance rather than by endless grovelling and appeasing. Wetherspoon’s Tim Martin, for example, would never be so defeatist.

He may even damage his own business relative to others by being too eager to embrace its enemies.
As an example, we recently withdrew a popular and highly profitable white cider brand because it had become part of a category of drinks increasingly chosen for price and alcoholic strength alone. It no longer had a place in our business.
So he gave Diamond White the chop. But Aston Manor are still happily making Frosty Jack’s, and no doubt taking a lot of what once was Heineken’s business. If you take a high moral stance, there will always be other producers willing to come in below you, while still fully adhering to the law. Alcohol is far more suited than tobacco products to small-scale, under-the-radar production.


  1. Didn't know about this. I saw Diamond White as a premium strong white cider that was reasonably readily available in pubs. I wouldn't drink it myself but I wouldn't want to stop anyone alse from doing so. I do however have a problem with the ultra-strong, ultra cheap white ciders such as White Ace, which are not available in pubs and are made, seemingly, just for street alcoholics. Maybe we need to draw a distinction between drinks which are to be enjoyed and may lead to inebriation and those which are designed simply to achieve oblivion as quickly and cheaply as possible. What do other people think?

  2. I think that this stance will further add to the demise of the Great British Pub :(

    Off sales of cheap high strength lagers, ciders and spirits maybe a problem BUT in the end it is about freedom of choice.

    A leading brewing company being in support of 'what is good for us' we just hasten the denormalisation of alcohol, just as is happening with nicotine (not just tobacco).

    Russell VR Ord
    Campaign for Vaping in Pubs

  3. It's a bit like that bartender who refused to serve alcohol to two women because their children would see them drinking.

    With staff like that, you may as well close all the pubs. Same for Heineken's CEO, sad to say.

  4. Russell VR Ord makes a very good point, although how much choice you have when you've reached the point where White Ace is your only option is perhaps debatable. However, he made me read the Curmudgeon's original post again, a bit more carefully this time. Are Heineken REALLY putting the utterly fictitious "safe limits" on the bottles? It is common knowledge that these were concocted for political reasons back in the 1980s and yet they are now virtually Holy Writ. (Go to Drinkaware: For the Facts. Yeah, right)
    The Ordmeister is quite right; such craven sucking-up to the Health Fascists will only encourage them.
    Right. I'm off to the pub now.

  5. I have no Heineken products to hand, but the "safe limits" certainly appear on a bottle of Castle Rock Harvest Pale.

    I honestly don't know to what extent Mr Orlowski is being naive as opposed to calculating, which is why I merely asked the question rather than putting the boot in.

  6. 'Maybe we need to draw a distinction between drinks which are to be enjoyed and may lead to inebriation and those which are designed simply to achieve oblivion as quickly and cheaply as possible'.
    Divide and conquer is so bloody easy isn't it?
    Some street drinkers drink strong cheap wine, I don't drink any wine ever. Ban it. I also hate spirits, ban it.
    The banning brigade will never stop. They will wittle away at the obvious targets and then move on. Drinks will become more expensive and weaker until the last 1% piss water is left.

  7. @anon06.06

    I don't want to ban anything. We have enough bans as it is.

  8. Further to previous posts, check this out: Read this in the pub (pub's copy; no way am I BUYING the Daily Wail) On my return, I checked out 2020Health, the outfit which produced the "report" in question. It's a commercal body which costs £100 for individual membership, corporate membership by arrangement. Its CEO is an optician whose proudest acheivement seems to be floogging her practice for a shedload of money, its board includes an ex-banker, Tory MP and CEO of a network of health insurance companies and the bloke who did the computer graphics for the Da Vinci Code. Its research team includes an "independent policy consultant" and an investment analyist specialising in the pharmaceutical industry. At least when George Best's liver surgeon pontificates on the demon drink, he does it from a position of some authority unlike this bunch of bozos. It's a self-perpetuating industry, fuelled by rags like the Daily Wail and hoovered up by the new puritans who want to eradicate all pleasure in life. Sorry to go on a bit but this made me quite cross. A nice relaxing pint might be in order now.

  9. Talking about appeasement,
    lets not forget the Publicans
    and their remaining clientele,
    they and they alone are responsible for the continuing
    demise of the real English Pub,
    their pathetic compliance and
    whimpering obedience will mark them
    when the day of reckoning arrives.
    Let it so be written

    Waiting for the richochets


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