Misleading With Headlines

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Here’s another lesson on how to mislead people with your headlines, brought to us, of course, by the group who claims to be keeping the alcohol industry honest, the good people of Alcohol Justice. This is at least the third time I’ve seen them tweet this headline — they do so love to beat dead horses — and this morning I happened to see it again: Diageo Admits Targeting 18-24 Year Olds with Red Stripe Jamaican Alcopop. Clicking on the link in the tweet takes you to a press release from earlier this month with a very similarly misleading title: Diageo Admits Targeting 18-24 Year Olds for Red Stripe Alcopop.

Sounds bad, right? Oh, no! Has Diageo really admitted to targeting underage kids with alcoholic products? Have they finally run afoul of the law, as Alcohol Justice (A.J.) continues to insist that all of us who work in the alcohol industry are evil inside? Oh, we probably hate children, too? Raise your hand if you think that’s what they’ve caught Diageo admitting. If your hand shot up, you may want to read someone else’s blog. Maybe one focusing on puppies or cute cat photos. Here’s what A.J. is complaining mightily about. In Jamaica, Diageo is test-marketing a malt-based alcohol beverage associated with the Red Stripe brand, called Burst, and is hoping to attract the 18-24 youth market there. In what A.J. terms “a shocking display of truth rarely seen among alcohol producers,” it was someone in Jamaica who made this criminal statement. I assume they’ve alerted the district attorney or attorneys general to start the indictment, and extradition, proceedings.

But before you grab your pitchfork from the closet, let’s examine this a bit closer. Jamaica, like the majority of the civilized work, allows adults to drink before age 21, most at a more reasonable 18. In Jamaica, however, according to the International Center for Alcohol Policies the age when people can legally consume alcohol is actually 16, although some sources say Jamaica has no minimum age. So let’s look at this again. A spokesperson for Red Stripe, a Jamaican company (owned by Diageo), speaking in Jamaica about a Jamaican test market, talks about a product they believe will appeal to persons who are between the ages of 18 and 24, where the minimum age is 16. So explain to me again what laws have been broken, or why this is such a headline-generating admission?

The answer is that she also included this horrific bit in her statement: Burst “is [also] being considered for United States distribution.” Wow, a multi-national company is thinking that one of their products that sells in one market might also sell in another. Based on this stunner, A.J. concludes that “‘It’s clear now that Diageo tests alcopop beverages on 18-24 year old cohorts of young women and men in other countries before marketing them in places like the United States where the drinking age is appropriately higher,’ said Bruce Lee Livingston, Executive Director / CEO of Alcohol Justice.” Talk about a tempest in a teacup. Talk about unmitigated bullshit propaganda blown up to create a headline, is more like it.

Michael Scippa, Public Affairs Director at Alcohol Justice, adds. “Now that we have in a producer’s own words, that they are targeting people under the age of 21 with alcopops, we are renewing our call for change to reduce the threat to youth.” Hey skippy, they admitted they were “targeting” drinkers under 21 where it’s legal to drink when you’re under 21. It’s legal for them to sell to whatever the age group is legal in that country, something you undoubtedly know. But I guess the temptation was too great to make it sound like that also meant they were going after underage drinkers in the U.S., too, even though they said nothing of the kind. If, and when, they decide to sell Burst in the U.S., you can’t possibly believe they’ll openly target anyone under 21 years of age. Considering you claim to be keeping big alcohol honest, it’s a wonder anyone listens to you at all, given how fast and loose you play with the truth. Because if nothing else, this is a willful bending of statements and facts to fit your narrative, and omitting in the headline the fact that the statements were made in Jamaica, about Jamaica, makes it obvious you intended to mislead people with that headline.

In the final paragraph A.J.’s chief propagandist Bruce Lee Livingston has the temerity to suggest that “[i]t may also be time for even state attorneys general to subpoena Ms. Mitchell[‘s] … records. Erin Mitchell works for Diageo in Jamaica. I’m fairly certain state attorneys general do not have subpoena powers in other countries, a fact I’m certain he knows, as well. But it makes a more alarmist finale to this hatchet job of misleading propaganda. Don’t look now, but I think your nose is growing.

pinocchio-tells-a-lie

FDA To Rule Caffeine Unsafe In Alcohol

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Harry Schuhmacher, of Beer Business Daily, just issued a news alert that he’s learned from the website of New York Senator Charles Schumer that the FDA “will rule ‘that caffeine is an unsafe food additive to alcoholic beverages, effectively making products such as Four Loko, Joose, and others like them, prohibited for sale in the United States.'”

According to the press release from Senator Schumer:

SCHUMER: FDA TO EFFECTIVELY BAN CAFFEINATED ALCOHOLIC DRINKS; FTC WILL NOTIFY MANUFACTURERS THAT THEY MAY BE ENGAGED IN ILLEGAL MARKETING OF UNSAFE BEVERAGES

After Months of Pressure by Schumer, FDA to Send Notice to Manufacturers of Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages that Product is Not Considered Safe; Move Will Effectively Ban Products from the Market

FTC to Send Notices to Manufacturers That They Are Engaged in the Marketing of Unsafe Alcoholic Drinks

Schumer: Let This Serve as a Warning to Anyone Who Tries to Peddle Dangerous Beverages to Our Kids, Do it, And We Will Shut You Down

U.S Senator Charles E. Schumer announced today that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will rule that caffeine is an unsafe food additive to alcoholic beverages, effectively making products such as Four Loko, Joose, and others like them, prohibited for sale in the United States. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plans to notify manufacturers that they are engaged in the potential illegal marketing of unsafe alcoholic drinks. These announcements come after months of intense pressure by Senator Schumer to have the drinks banned because of serious risks to consumer health and safety.

“Let these rulings serve as a warning to anyone who tried to peddle dangerous and toxic brews to our children. Do it and we will shut you down,” said Schumer. “This ruling should be the nail in the coffin of these dangerous and toxic drinks. Parents should be able to rest a little easier knowing that soon their children won’t have access to this deadly brew.”

After calls by Schumer to ban the drinks in New York, just this past week, the State Liquor Authority and the state’s largest beer distributors agreed to stop selling these dangerous drinks in New York. In addition to New York’s efforts, Oklahoma, Utah, Michigan, and Washington acted to ban the drinks as did a number of colleges, including Ramapo College, Worcester State University, the University of Rhode Island and the Wentworth Institute of Technology.

Popular drinks such as Four Loko and Joose contain as much as 2-3 coffee cups worth of caffeine and 2-3 cans of beer per container — a potent, dangerous mix that can be extremely hazardous for teens and adults alike. Last month, nine students passed out and were hospitalized after drinking Four Loko, leading states and universities across the country to issue ban, limit, or issue warnings about the drink.

Compounded with its health risks, beverages like Four Loko pose a unique danger because they target young people. The style of the beverages – with a vibrantly colored aluminum can colors and funky designs — appeal to younger consumers, increasing the likelihood that the beverages will be consumed by young adults and creating a problem for parents and business owners who might be misled by the branding. Four Loko is also stocked next to other energy drinks, creating further confusion.

Last week, Schumer was joined in his efforts to ban the drink by Jacqueline Celestino, grandmother of Nicole Lynn Celestino, an 18 year old from Long Island who passed away after drinking the caffeinated alcoholic beverage Four Loko. Nicole, went into cardiac arrest after drinking Four Loko this past August, she had taken a diet pill that day. Nicole’s family has become outspoken advocates for a ban on alcoholic caffeinated drinks like Four Loko.

The dangers of these drinks are well known. A recent study found that young and underage drinkers who combine alcohol with caffeine, which occurs with increasing frequency given the prevalence of beverages like Four Loko and Joose, are more likely to suffer injury, be the victim of sexual assault, drive while intoxicated, and require medical attention than drinkers who consume caffeine-free beverages. In 2008, Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and MillerCoors LLC reformulated caffeinated alcoholic beverages under pressure from several states and regulatory bodies, but smaller companies like the manufacturers of Four Loko and Joose managed to remain unnoticed.

According to the statement, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plans to notify manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages “that they are engaged in the potential illegal marketing of unsafe alcoholic drinks.”

There’s a lot of nonsense in that press release, and no one knows how whatever ruling the FDA makes will effect beer with coffee, tea or caffeine added for flavor.

First there’s this rant: “‘Let these rulings serve as a warning to anyone who tried to peddle dangerous and toxic brews to our children. Do it and we will shut you down,’ said Schumer. ‘This ruling should be the nail in the coffin of these dangerous and toxic drinks. Parents should be able to rest a little easier knowing that soon their children won’t have access to this deadly brew.’”

Did I miss a meeting. People under 21 can’t buy these products now. My kids, your kids, everybody’s kids have no access to these so-called “deadly brews.” If they do find a way to get them (which I have no doubt of) then that’s a failure of another kind. And doing away with them altogether effectively takes them away from law-abiding adults who want to purchase them. That just makes no sense to me. It’s as if they’re saying we can’t control the portion of the population that are under 21 so we’re going to punish everybody because we can’t do our job.

But that aside, there’s absolutely nothing preventing anybody from simply mixing a caffeinated drink with alcohol and making their own drink. That’s the whole reason companies started making pre-packaged RTD’s with alcohol and caffeine in the first place, because people were already doing that on their own. They didn’t create the demand, they responded to it and simply gave the people what they wanted.

This will do virtually nothing to stop people from drinking caffeine and alcohol together. It may make it more difficult and less convenient, but the cat is out of the bag. If anything, going back to people making these drinks themselves will make them less safe, not more, because there will be no standardized ratio for mixing the two.

Toward the end, Schumer claims “[t]he dangers of these drinks are well known.” Really, people have been drinking caffeine and alcohol together as long as the two have existed. Has it become more popular lately? Maybe, but people were doing it pretty regularly as long ago as when I was a young adult, thirty years ago. I’d love to see that study he cites, I’m willing to bet there are holes in it you could drive a truck through.

But the real danger is that undoubtedly craft beers that have beers with caffeine added for flavor, whether coffee or tea, will get dragged under in the government’s zeal to look like they’re doing something to protect people from themselves. Say goodbye to coffee stouts, a drink no underage kid would drink with a ten-foot straw.

Diving Off the Malternative Pier … Again

I recently went on and on about the many niche markets Anheuser-Busch was looking into infiltrating both within the beer market and outside of it. Looks like I missed one. According to Miller’s BrewBlog, a trademark application has been filed by A-B for an alcoholic tea to be known as “Pier 21.”

The first to make this type of malternative product I’m aware of was Bison Brewing of Berkeley, California. The brewery is generally known for its excellent organic beers but for a period of time they made a line of Hard Ice Tea using flavors like Green Tea and Red Hibiscus. I think there were eventually four or five different flavors. They took a lot of flack for them at the time, but as these things go they weren’t too bad. They certainly tasted good and were much less offensive them the sweeter malternatives that were all the rage around the same time. Due to issues with their contract brewer, they stopped production of them a little while ago. Of course, I should disclose I’m a tea drinker — it’s my preferred vehicle of caffeine delivery. I drink at least a 1 liter bottle of Tejava per day (it’s simply microbrewed tea, unsweetened and with nothing added).

Boston Beer still makes Twisted Tea, their version of a hard ice tea, which now comes in four flavors. It’s most likely the category — or would that be subcategory — leader. BrewBlog mentions that ‘[f]or the 13 weeks ended May 27, Twisted Tea sales increased 44% to more than 55,000 cases.”

Mike’s makes a Hard Iced Tea, too. They’re most well-known for their Hard Lemonade which was — and perhaps still is, I don’t follow these things if I can help it — one of the more popular of the lemonade flavored alcopops. There may be more, but I’m not aware of them.

The application A-B filed described Pier 21 as an “alcoholic tea-based beverage.” This would be yet another niche market along the long tail that A-B might be pursuing. They are already making and/or distributing the malternatives Bacardi Silver, BE (B-to-the-E), Peels (alcoholic fruit juices), and Tilt (an energy malt beverage).

They also used to make Doc Otis, a lemonade flavored alcopop to compete with Mike’s, Hopper’s Hooch, Two Dogs and other hard lemonades during the heyday of such products.

Whatever happened to the old Doc? Can he be found on a golf course, having retired and moved to Florida?