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RPC Bites #41 – A close call for Meatless Farm, Mikkeller reprimanded over ale that appealed to under 18s and a potential blanket ban on single-use plastics

Published on 13 December 2021

Welcome to RPC Bites. Our aim in the next 2 minutes is to provide you with a flavour of some key legal, regulatory and commercial developments in the Food & Drink sector over the last fortnight… with the occasional bit of industry gossip thrown in for good measure. Enjoy!!

Health claims for plant-based products - a close call for Meatless Farm 

The Meatless Farm Company (Meatless Farm) has informally resolved a complaint made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The complaint was made by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) regarding two social media ads posted in October 2021.

The ads featured a firefighter and a nurse asserting that a plant-based diet made them “stronger, both mentally and physically” and provided "improved…mental and physical health". The AHDB submitted that this breached Rule 15.1 of the CAP Code, which states that ads containing nutrition or health claims must be supported by documentary evidence. 

Meatless Farm asserted that the nurse who had appeared in the ad was sharing her real-life experience and that her comments were supported by a scientific study. However, a spokesperson for the ASA reiterated that "claims which refer to the general benefits of a nutrient or food for overall good health or health-related wellbeing (‘general’ health claims) are only acceptable if accompanied by a relevant authorised health claim.

In a wise move, given the clarity of the health claims rules, Meatless Farm voluntarily confirmed that the claims would not be repeated in future ads. This spared the need for a formal ASA investigation, with the regulator confirming that the matter is now "resolved". 

Potential blanket ban for single-use plastics

Last month, the Environment Act 2021 (the Act) became law. Designed to "clean up the country’s air, restore natural habitats, increase biodiversity, reduce waste and make better use of our resources", the Act introduces a number of measures to curb plastic pollution. This includes the Deposit Return Scheme, Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme (the Schemes) and the plastic packaging tax, all of which we have previously reported on in RPC Bites. 

Whilst the mechanics of the Schemes are still being worked through, the plastic packaging tax is due to come into force in April 2022. Once enacted, the tax will apply to packaging that is made from less than 30% recycled content. 

Taking things a step further, the Government recently announced that single-use plastic plates, cutlery and expanded and extruded polystyrene cups and containers could be phased out. With the launch of its consultation on banning the supply of commonly littered single-use plastic items, DEFRA is calling on the public to give its views on the proposed ban. If of interest, comments can be provided here.

Mikkeller's cartoon beer can leaves a bitter taste

A recent complaint by the Metropolitan Police against beer brand Mikkeller has been upheld by the Portman Group's Independent Complaints Panel (the Panel). The Police were concerned that cans of Mikkeller's 'Side Eyes' and 'American Dream Pale Ale' appealed to children, given their eye-catching design and the fact that they are the same size as a can of coke.

The Panel found that the drink adequately communicated its alcoholic nature, meeting the minimum legal requirements in relation to the labelling of alcoholic beverages, so there was no infringement of paragraph 3.1 of the Alcohol Marketing Code Rules (the Code). However, the complaint regarding appealing to under 18s, in contravention of paragraph 3.2(h) of the Code, was upheld.

The Panel found that the design was childish in its appearance as it depicted multiple cartoonish characters and used bright primary colours. This, coupled with the design being "reminiscent of Minecraft", a computer game popular with under 18s, contributed to the packaging's overall appeal to younger age groups. As a result, Mikkeller agreed to redesign its packaging to make it less appealing to children.

Pull your own pint as Asda launches in-store draught beer refills

Asda is trialling something akin to an instore take-away pub in Milton Keynes, serving customers a range of draught beers in refillable 1 and 2 litre containers for at home consumption. The supermarket has partnered with specialist craft beer and cider retailer, Craft on Draft, to offer customers a choice of 12 local small batch beers on rotation. As such, not only does the trial drive sustainability, but it promotes local independent breweries. 

For Asda, the move builds on the supermarket's other sustainability focused initiatives, including the introduction of refillable loose items such as cereals, rice, and pasta in store. If the trial is a success, Asda hopes to expand to additional stores in the new year.

Non-Fungible beer - Budweiser launches its first NFT collection

From burgers to beer - in Issue 40 of RPC Bites, we reported that Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are making their way into the food and drink sector, following the launch of McDonald's 'McRib' NFT. Now, turning to beer, house-hold name, Budweiser has announced its ticket onto the blockchain with the launch of its first NFT. 

Budweiser's Heritage NFT Collection features 1936 (being the year Budweiser's first beer can was created) exclusive digital can designs and comprises 2 types of tokens, the Core Heritage Cans, at $499 USD each, and the even more premium Gold Heritage Cans, at $999 USD each.

The NFTs can be purchased with the cryptocurrency ETH, Bitcoin or a credit card through the Budweiser website, but only by consumers of legal drinking age.

The ASA rebukes Abnormal's misleading 'plastic-free' claims

Meal subscription brand, Abnormal offers its customers personalised, nutritionally complete meals in paper-based sachets, with the intention of promoting healthy, sustainable living. However, Abnormal has come under fire from the ASA for running ads on its website and Instagram account, which claimed that its products were "plastic free" and "Zero plastic." 

The complainant argued that the products in question contained a plastic lining which made recycling difficult and meant that the "plastic free" and "Zero plastic" claims were misleading.  

In a rare move, Class Delta Ltd t/a Abnormal elected not to respond to the ASA's enquiries. This, in itself, was a breach of CAP Code Rule 1.7, which stipulates that any unreasonable delay in responding to ASA enquiries will be considered a breach. The ASA considered that Abnormal's claims in relation to plastic (or the lack thereof) would be interpreted by consumers as meaning that its product packaging did not contain any plastic. As Abnormal did not provide any evidence in support of its claims, the ASA concluded that the claims had not been substantiated and were therefore misleading and must not appear again in their current form.