08 | Nov | 12

Richard Johnson

Is This The Face Of Evil?

It’s amazing what a four-year-old and a box of crayons can do — in this case, create an international row about the marketing of alcohol to children. The shenanigans began 10 years ago, when Jody Scheckter’s young son drew a colourful picture of his dad in the green wellies and overalls that he wore on his Laverstoke Park Farm estate in Hampshire. The drawing, named ‘Mr Laverstoke’, became part of the branding for the estate’s entire range of organic and biodynamic food and drink products, appearing on everything from beef joints and buffalo milk to ales and ice creams. But, ten years later, the Portman Group has banned it. The Group was established to promote responsible drinking — an admirable aim. Based on a single complaint by the public, the Portman Group stated that by using Mr. Laverstoke (which has been on all of Scheckter’s products since they started), they fell foul of the requirement to not have a product that has particular appeal to under 18s.

“As I have stated to them from the beginning,” says Scheckter, “if I believed for one second that our labelling was going to appeal to and encourage children to drink our ale and lager, I would stop immediately. We have sold over 170,000 bottles of our ale and lager since 2007 without complaint. It simply does not make sense to take this stand against Laverstoke Park Farm’s lager and ale labelling – the Portman Group’s belief that it “would be likely to appeal to younger children” is nonsensical and without foundation. Our ale and lager has been purchased by responsible and knowledgeable buyers from the major multiples, for example, and those retailers would not buy a beer that they considered to be a risk to their company’s reputation by being attractive to children. Additionally we have not had a complaint from any of our customers that they have had a problem with our ale or lager being targeted by under 18s.”

It’s a tricky one. The Portman Group’s mission is to “ensure that drinks are marketed in a socially responsible way and to an adult audience only”. The Portman Group acknowledges that there has not been any intentional targeting of under 18s by Laverstoke Park. But we could imagine the Mr Laverstoke character appealing to kids. Is that really enough reason to ban it? In a recent letter to Scheckter, the Portman Group said that if a bottle of Laverstoke ale or lager was left on a kitchen table, a child might like to drink it, hence it’s in breach of the code. But just think of all the pretty and brightly coloured liqueurs and even vodkas, not to mention alcopops – if the “kitchen table” standard is applied across all alcoholic products, will they all be banned next? The fact that the Portman Group does not object to alcoholic products with provocative names, quirky and/or stylish packaging with sexy websites seems questionable when it appears to primarily target small, independent producers who are unlikely to have the ability to fight them. The Grocer reviewed various decisions by the Portman Group as well as alcoholic products currently for sale and the link is below:


Who is right? Is this just another case of the Big Guy picking on the Little Guy? Or does the Big Guy really have our best interests at heart? Laverstoke might not have the money to relist, rebrand and relaunch — it would be a shame to lose a great British beer because of one complaint.