The drinks industry is without doubt operating in difficult times. The credit crunch continues to bite at consumer confidence, duty increases eat away at profit margins and
rising material and energy costs combine to produce a challenging marketplace for all of us - off-trade, on-trade and producers. In such tough trading conditions, it would be easy to focus on short-term survival and profit alone
and not invest in changing attitudes to alcohol over the longer term. That would be wrong.
have been enjoyed by millions of adults around the world
some 7,000 years. Consumed responsibly they are associated with enjoyment and celebration.
It's about people using good judgement and drinking smarter, not harder.
Equally, it is clear that if alcohol is consumed irresponsibly
can create health or social problems for the individual or society as a whole. There has been sustained media coverage in the UK
"binge" drinking and
clamour from stakeholders that something must be done.
But what and by whom?
Responsible drinking is everyone's concern. At Diageo, we believe
the interests of our brands, our industry, our consumers and society
are best served by industry working in partnership with others. The drinks industry acknowledges
there is an issue to be tackled and recognises
it has a role to play, alongside other agencies such as government, law enforcement, the media
Diageo believes it has a role to play in marketing responsible drinking just as we do in marketing our brands responsibly. We treat
"responsible drinking" as if it were a brand. It's great to see in these tough times that major industry players
such as Bacardi and Pernod Ricard
are making a major contribution with
responsible drinking initiatives. Our own
Choices campaign has evolved over the past two years and has run nationwide across broadcast, poster and digital media, reaching an audience of 10 million .
A great example of retailers in the on and off-trade successfully working together to initiate a change in behaviour is the Challenge 21 scheme. Challenge 21 has an impressive reach with consumers - 75,000 off-trade stores currently use Challenge 21 materials and one million people are turned away from pubs every month for failure to produce proof of age. Impressive statistics, but just how well known and understood by our critics are they? We need to do more to help them understand the facts.
It's reassuring to see the key industry players proactively launching campaigns that, as a collective, work towards achieving a common goal and complement the programmes and initiatives of
the Drinkaware Trust. But is this effective enough? Would we be better off pooling resources across the industry to create one central strategy with a ground-breaking initiative as the spearhead? How do we reach an agreement with an industry so complex and fragmented? We are made up of the off-trade, the on-trade, and a range of producers large and small, global and domestic, across beer, wine and spirits. Unification of purpose could be a difficult prospect.
taken the first steps to create a
partnership to fund and action responsible drinking initiatives - the most successful of which is the Drinkaware Trust. A unique charity funded entirely by the industry, the Drinkaware Trust is a joint venture between health professionals, the voluntary sector and the wider alcohol industry to create a central initiative targeted at alcohol education. Its focus is on combating alcohol misuse among
under-18s and long-term harm resulting from excessive drinking by adults. I am privileged to be a Trustee and have been encouraged by the complementary effect the current raft of industry-backed campaigns are having on the wider responsible drinking message.
In yet another example of the value of the joined-up approach, the Wine
& Spirit Trade Association, in partnership with the Drinkaware Trust, is developing responsible drinking point of sale items to complement the Challenge 21 campaign with messages to raise consumer awareness.
Promisingly, the new point of sale will be distributed to retailers by the WSTA, British Retail Consortium and Association of Convenience Stores and will hopefully replicate the success of Challenge 21 as the natural next strand of activity to push the message where it will have the most success - at the point where alcohol is sold.
I believe we are doing a good job. But as far along the road as we have come, there is still a long way to go. There is no doubt that as an industry we can do more to unite under a common banner and promote responsible drinking.
A good next step is to look at successful partnership schemes launched by some of our neighbours' drinks industries. The Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society
organisation in Ireland has a number of member organisations from across the industry, all united in successfully promoting the responsible drinking message. Using a variety of channels, MEAS works to enable consumers to make informed choices and at the same time provides guidance to the industry
on the responsible marketing and promotion of alcohol. Recent initiatives have included a student film competition to highlight responsible drinking, often in humorous and engaging ways, as well as retailer-focused campaigns ahead of major events on the Irish social calendar, such as St Patrick's Day and music festivals.
Similarly, the innovative partnership between the Scottish
government, alcohol producers and retailers
has utilised collaborative measures between
government and industry to seek a change in the harmful culture of alcohol misuse in Scotland.
As a result of this partnership, Scotland had its first
alcohol awareness week in October 2007. The campaign saw
government, the industry, health professionals and the voluntary sector working together towards raising awareness of alcohol misuse, successfully targeting 1.5 million customers and 30,000 staff through the distribution of promotional materials alone.
As both Ireland and Scotland have shown, uniting towards a common goal in the promotion of responsible drinking can be done. In times of such economic uncertainty, we continue to be committed to changing consumer attitudes to alcohol. To do this we also need to remain a strong and sustainable industry, demonstrating our ability to self-regulate effectively and, importantly, having a seat at the table in terms of alcohol policy formulation.
After all, responsible drinking is everyone's concern.