Under the Portman Group’s Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks a drink, its packaging and any promotional activity around it should not have any appeal to under-18s.
Laverstoke's organic beers, brewed under licence for the Hampshire-based farm and which have won Great Taste Awards and are endorsed by CAMRA, were put under scrutiny after a member of the public complained about the 'childish nature' of the drawn image of the farmer character Mr Laverstoke and the colours used on the label.
In its defence, Laverstoke Park Farm, which has sold 170,000 bottles of the beers carrying the label over the last five years, said it used the same image on a range of its products, from cheeses to meat and soft drinks and it was meant to create an 'adult, joyful and honest feel to the products' as well as represent its ethical food production message.
Henry Ashworth, chief executive of the Portman Group said that while its Independent Complaints Panel had understood that the beers were not intentionally setting out to appeal to under-age drinkers, they could not continue to be sold as they were.
"Whilst a child’s drawing may be acceptable for marketing organic apple juice it is entirely inappropriate for alcoholic drinks’ labels," he said. "There are no exceptions to the rule which says that alcohol packaging must not appeal to children, regardless of where a product is being sold."
As a result of the ruling, all publicans and retailers signed up to Portman's Code have been told they can no longer sell Laverstoke Park Farm's 5% abv ale and 4.5% abv lager until the labels are changed.
In response to the ruling, Laverstoke Park Farm founder Jody Scheckter called it nonsensical and a major disappointment and claimed it could mean an end to the production of the beers altogether.
He said: "The financial impact of this decision appears to be completely immaterial to the Portman Group. They state a date from which the beer can no longer be sold with the current labelling. They do not consider for one moment how much inventory a small company may have, the economic impact of buyers not wanting to end up with stock they shouldn’t sell on the shelves and therefore not ordering the product, the potential for the ale and lager to be de-listed entirely, the cost of redesigning the label and having the entire remaining inventory re-labelled and then the associated decrease in sales when the consumer no longer recognises the brand.
"As a small company, we cannot afford to have a nationwide advertising campaign to re-launch the product so the potential for our losses is considerable and it may mean that it is no longer viable for us to produce our award winning beers. And all this from a single complaint and the Portman Group’s over reaction and inability to apply the spirit of the code."
Laverstoke Park Farm follows Brewdog and Ramsgate Brewery who were both ordered to change the packaging for their Tokyo and Dark Conspiracy beers after they were found in breach of the Code.