It all started in the Bull and Bear Ale House of Adelaide, Australia. In 1993, owner Duncan MacGillivray brewed an alcoholic lemonade called Two Dogs—and “alcopop,” a sweet, pop-like drink with a kick, was born. Two Dogs has since become an international phenomenon, quenching thirst in more than 40 countries, including Canada. Last year, Londonbased brewing giant Bass Brewing followed with its own hard lemonade, Hooper’s Hooch, which has been available in Canada since late last month. Dozens of other competitors have jumped in with new alcopop varieties, including grape-, orangeand cola-flavored beverages with such snappy names as Jammin’ and Zanzibi Sling. But organizations concerned with alcohol abuse claim that teenagers are the main consumers of the syrupy drinks, most of which have an alcohol content of 4.5 per cent (roughly the same as beer) and sell for around $9.75 for six bottles. “We need to be careful about how these products are marketed,” says Robert Mann, a scientist at the Addiction Research Foundation in Toronto. “I have some pretty serious concerns about who would be the most likely consumers of the product.”
International sales of alcopops are expected to soar to $700 million this year. And Gary Hemphill, vice-president of the New York City-based Beverage Marketing Corp., a leading industry research company, expects that the beverages will be just as popular in Canada as they have been abroad. “I just came back from London [England], and it’s everywhere,” notes William Sharpe,
chief executive officer of Lakeport Brewing Corp. of Hamilton, Ont., which is now brewing Hooch for Ontario and Quebec and will soon supply northeastern U.S. markets.
“It’s the most successful launch of a new beverage product in a decade.”
But if the experience on the other side of the Atlantic is any indication, younger North American drinkers in particular will flock to alcopops. And many British anti-alcohol groups, including London-based Alcohol Concern, say that by flavoring alcohol to taste like pop, the industry has deliberately targeted teenage drinkers. “It’s hard to see how these drinks are not meant to encourage young people to start drinking younger and younger,” says Alcohol Concern director Eric Appleby. “I wonder when they will bring out a bottle with a teat on it.”
There have been several hot exchanges over alcopops in the British House of Commons. Late last month, in an attempt to deter teen drinking, Kenneth Clarke, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, levied a stiff tax of 18 cents per bottle on the drinks. Meanwhile, under public pressure, the U.K. beverage industry is keeping an eye on the marketing of alcopops. In September, an orange-flavored alcoholic drink called Thickhead, whose label depicted a young man appearing to be in pain from a hangover, was pulled from the market.
Labelling on the brands available in Canada has so far not generated any controversy. Two Dogs comes in a green beer bottle with two bulldogs on a yellow label. Hooper’s Hooch depicts a sneering yellow lemon in its advertising and label. But alcopops do seem to be winning popularity with younger consumers. Steve Bolliger, director of marketing for Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which is distributed by the Mark Anthony Group in Vancouver, claims that Mike’s is rapidly becoming the favorite drink of young males across the country—particularly university students.
Such assertions are keeping organizations concerned about alcohol consumption vigilant. Jim Wideman, executive director of the powerful, Torontobased anti-drinking group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, says that if alcopops become a major factor in drunk driving among young people, his group will quickly demand changes. And, according to the Addiction Research Foundation’s Mann, recent studies by the institution have clearly shown that teenage drinkers respond to alcohol advertising. He notes that in 1994, following the release of high-alcohol beers— which were supported by an extensive advertising campaign promoting the beer’s extra punch—a poll of grade 11 and 12 male students who drank alcohol found that almost 65 per cent of those surveyed had tried the beer. Brewing executives say alcopop is aimed at 21-to-35-vear-olds, but Mann notes that such a pitch usually extends downward in age—“Anything that is attractive to a 21year-old is going to be even more so to a 16-year-old.” And that may continue to make alcopops a going concern.
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