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Neil Miller - NZ

Storm in a pint glass over breakfast beer

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The launch of Moa Breakfast, a wheat-based lager, is "marketing alcohol to alcoholics", an addiction expert says. National Addiction Centre director Doug Sellman said that "promoting alcohol at breakfast time is promoting morning drinking. And morning drinking is a classic sign of alcoholism, so it’s basically marketing alcohol to alcoholics," he said.

Last week, I was on Radio New Zealand's The Panel news show and I was asked my opinion, both as a panellist and a beer writer. Bottom line - I think Sellman's attacks miss the mark for four reasons.

One, the reference on the bottle to 'breakfast' is a cheeky nod to a more European drinking culture, and to champagne breakfasts and Bloody Mary’s – all of which are considered quite respectable by the mainstream. Sellman was not out attacking hotels which offer a Bloody Mary on their breakfast menu or the restaurants advertising champagne breakfasts for Mothers Day. Both of those situations clearly fit his "promoting alcohol at breakfast time is promoting morning drinking and morning drinking is a classic sign of alcoholism" argument.

If he was consistent, he would have criticised high-profile newsreader John Hawkesby for his wine column in the New Zealand Herald where he approvingly quoted a French champagne expert saying "champagne is the only wine that is acceptable to drink at any time of the day... you rarely hear of a beer breakfast but a Champagne breakfast is perfectly acceptable." Not a peep from Sellman on that so we can reasonably conclude his only problem is specifically with beer.

Two, Moa breakfast beer is not a product which would appeal to alcoholics. This beer is relatively low-alcohol (5.5%), comes in small bottles (375ml) and is expensive ($34 for a four pack). Let us use the ALAC guidelines (they fund the National Addiction Centre) to do the same calculation a problem drinker would do: For that $34, a problem drinker could buy a four pack of Moa Breakfast (6.48 standard drinks) or, for the same price, that person could buy three bottles of cheap wine (23.1 standard drinks) or a bottle of full-strength vodka (35 standard drinks).

Three, beer is not the fundamental problem. Let’s look at the official Statistics New Zealand figures – in 2010 total volume of alcoholic beverages available for consumption increased 0.6 percent to 474 million litres. The amount of pure alcohol available for consumption rose 5.5 percent to 33 million litres (9.6 litres per person). Sellman may be correct to be concerned but this increase was driven by higher volumes of wine (up 7.7 percent) and spirits (up 20 percent). Conversely, there was a decline in the amount of beer available (down 2.2 percent).

Four, the name of the beer is deliberately cheeky and provocative. Consumers don't have to do everything a product label says - a DB Export Gold can be drunk in New Zealand, Monteith's Summer Ale can be drunk in winter and Pink Elephant Mammoth contains no actual mammoth.

What is new is that Moa is now part-owned by Geoff Ross, a man who made his wealth and fame with 42 Below vodka, a company noted for creating media buzz and controversy around their products. Well, it looks like it worked here too. Doug Sellman, a man whose own work website denies he is enthusiastic about declaring war on anything seems to have helped launch Moa Breakfast’s media profile.


Neil Miller


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