At the request of Congress, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) carefully investigated whether or not flavored malt beverages (FMBs) or malternatives are being marketed to persons under the age of 21. 2
The FTC, in cooperation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), conducted an exhaustive analysis of internal company documents on product development, marketing strategies, advertising strategies, age composition of FMB ads, among many other matters. It also conducted a study of the actual placement of FMBs in retail locations across the country. In addition, the FTC consulted with and received information from alcohol activist groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Alcohol Policies Project (CSPI), the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
The FTC “found no evidence of targeting underage drinkers in the FMB market” and it noted that “the majority of FMB drinkers are over the age of 27,” much higher than the minimum drinking age. It also observed that “teen drinking continued to decline during the period when these beverages were being aggressively marketed.”
Just two years earlier
“(I)n response to a complaint filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the FTC conducted an investigation to determine if FMBs were being targeted to minors. Among other things, the Commission staff reviewed whether the products were placed among non-alcoholic beverages in retail outlets; whether the advertising for these newer products was targeted to an underage audience; and whether consumer survey evidence proved that teens were more likely than adults to be aware of and use the products, as alleged in the CSPI complaint.
“The investigation was conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB, formerly the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms). The Commission obtained proprietary information from marketers of the five products identified in CSPI's complaint, including internal documents relating to product development, marketing plans, consumer research, and distribution plans. In addition to a review of the documentation, the investigation included a ten-city survey to determine where the newer malt beverages were placed in retail outlets.
“With respect to the placement of FMBs in retail outlets, industry documents obtained by the FTC showed that the alcohol companies had expressly urged distributors to place the products with other alcohol products, generally with imports and microbrews. The FTC/TTB survey of retail outlets in ten cities confirmed that the beverages were not co-mingled with non-alcoholic products in retail outlets.
“The Commission's review also found no evidence of intent to target minors with the FMB products, packaging, or advertising. For example, the internal company documentation, including planning materials and consumer research results, demonstrated that the marketers tested alternate product and packaging versions on adults aged 21 to 29 to determine the optimal product taste profiles and packaging styles and that they tested the appeal of advertising by surveying adults above the legal drinking age.
“Finally, the Commission reviewed the consumer survey evidence submitted (by CAMY) in support of the proposition that the new malt beverages are predominantly popular with minors. The Commission concluded that flaws in the survey's methodology limit the ability to draw conclusions from the survey data” collected by CAMY. 2
Based on the facts, the FTC concluded that there was “no evidence of intent to target minors with the FMB products, packaging, or advertising.”
The bottom line: In two major investigations in three years, the Federal Trade Commission has found “no evidence of targeting underage drinkers in the FMB market” and “no evidence of intent to target minors with the FMB products, packaging, or advertising.”
For more about alcohol marketing, visit Alcohol Advertising.
To learn more about CAMY, visit The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth.