Misleading on provenance

A bottle of Doom Bar

A bottle of Doom Bar - Credit: Archant

A recent half-page advertisement for Sharp’s Doom Bar, illustrated by a bottle of the beer, stated: “At our brewery in Rock, we create beer that’s alive with Cornish energy and our adventurous spirit inspires every drop we brew.”

It’s cleverly worded. It says Sharp’s creates beer in Rock and carefully avoids claiming bottled Doom Bar is brewed there. But it’s safe to assume most people reading the ad will assume the beer is brewed in Cornwall.

In fact, just a week before the ad appeared, Molson Coors, the giant global brewer that owns Sharp’s, admitted the bottled version of Doom Bar has been brewed for the past two years not in Cornwall but in Burton-on-Trent. The problem is compounded by the fact that this information is not clear from the bottle label.

The front label announces in large type “Rock Cornwall”. The brewery was founded there in 1994 and was bought by Molson Coors in 2011. The neck label enthuses about Sharp’s striving “to raise the bar for British brewing by producing exceptional beer for the enjoyment of all” and again concludes with the tag “Rock Cornwall”.

On the back label, when you have waded through information about the treacherous sand bank off the Cornish coast that gives the beer its name, followed by tasting notes and suggestions for food pairing, you may spot in small type “brewed in the UK”. This is followed by the address of Sharp’s in Cornwall.

There’s no mention of Burton-on-Trent, Molson Coors’ main base. The brewery pointed out that the draught version of the beer is still brewed only at Rock. But that doesn’t solve the problem of consumers being misled about the origin of the bottled beer.

Molson Coors are not the only transgressors and I wonder why no action is taken to clear up misleading beer labelling – on draught as well as packaged – when the law is quite precise on the matter. Government guidance on the Food Labelling Regulations of 1996 – and beer is treated as food – says “particulars of the place (not necessarily the country) of origin or provenance of the food must be shown if failure to give such information might mislead a purchaser to a material degree as to the true origin of the food.”

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It adds: “Care should always be taken to ensure that, if a name given to a food or its brand or trade name includes a reference to a place in such a way which, when taken with other written and illustrative information given on the label, could imply that the food comes from, or has been made in, a particular place or area, this true place of origin is made clear.”

Heineken was rapped over the knuckles by the Advertising Standards Authority in 2011 for misleading – the ASA’s term – consumers by talking up Kronenbourg 1664’s French heritage. Heineken wrongly implied the lager on sale in the UK is brewed in France.

But little has changed to stop the confusion. A current box of Kronenbourg 1664 declares “brassée avec savoir-faire depuis 1664” – brewed with know-how since 1664. The use of French plays up the authenticity of the product. Only on the side of the box will you find – helpfully in English and in small type – “brewed in UK”. As a writer in The Guardian pointed out, the brewery is “just off the Preston-Blackburn road and near the M6”.

As a result of years of TV advertising for AB InBev’s Stella Artois, with actors speaking in exaggerated “franglais”, most drinkers believe it’s a French beer. In fact, it’s Belgian in origin and comes from Leuven in the Dutch-speaking part of the country. Boxes for Stella proudly announce “Leuven – over 600 years of brewing experience, anno 1366.” Now that’s what you call heritage – except the Stella consumed in the UK is brewed at Magor in Monmouthshire at a brewery built not in 1366 but just 36 years ago.

Foster’s is another lager beer promoted with great stress on its origins, in this case Australia, with the slogan “Think Australian, drink Australian”. The latest TV commercials show parched Aussies in the late 19th century watching as cool crates of Foster’s are unloaded for their delectation and refreshment. A box of the beer waxes lyrical: “When William and Ralph Foster arrived in the searing heat of Melbourne in 1888 they had one thing in mind. To craft a beer that could refresh the thirstiest men on earth.”

Such authenticity -- except you’d be hard pressed to find Foster’s Down Under these days as it’s a very minor brand there. It’s brewed in Britain by our old chums at Heineken in their beer factory near the M6 in Manchester.

Why are our legislators so feeble in allowing this nonsense to exist? Drinkers are being misled at a time when more and more consumers are concerned about the provenance of what they eat and drink. They deserve to know where products are made and they won’t be impressed by labels that shout loudly about “Rock Cornwall” when the beer in the bottle is brewed several hundred miles away in land-locked Burton.