Liquor Authority ordered to probe ‘juice box’ wine

The provincial government has ordered the Western Cape Liquor Authority to “urgently” investigate how assurances given by an alcohol producer to change the labelling of a box wine were allegedly reneged on.

This comes after the Tatler reported last week that cartons of “Mal Piet” box wine, which features a cartoon goat, were being found by environmental group Friends of the Rosebank and Mowbray Greenbelt (FROG), despite the fact that four years earlier the producers of the wine, Cape Wine Works, had pledged to alter the packaging after it was accused of trying to target children (“Cheap wine gets Frog’s goat,” Tatler, September 1).

However, the producer of the wine, Cape Wine Works, says the wine labelling had been altered as agreed by incorporating a “wine bottle” label under the cartoon goat. It insists there was never an agreement to remove the goat.

Frog says Mal Piet and other cheap wines are attracting vagrants who drink openly in the area known as the “grain silo” on the greenbelt.

Community Safety MEC Dan Plato, who oversees the Liquor Authority, said he was “appalled” to hear the producers of Mal Piet had allegedly not stuck to their agreement.

“I have requested the Liquor Authority to look into this matter with urgency. Irresponsible marketing practices around liquor can have a detrimental impact, especially when producers are seemingly targeting young people with their packaging. All businesses, but particularly those selling liquor, need to ensure they act in a responsible manner,” Mr Plato said.

These sentiments were echoed by Suzette Little, mayoral committee member for social development and early childhood development. “The City of Cape Town recognises the harm that these products inflict on our people and in particular the vulnerable members of our society who find themselves living rough on the streets. We have engaged with the Western Cape Liquor Authority around this issue. We are disappointed to note that the packaging is still the same and will raise this issue again,” she said.

However, Cape Wine Works managing director, Michael Kovensky this week said he had indeed delivered on his undertaking. He said questions the Tatler sent him last week had ended up in his spam email folder.

He provided the Tatler with a 2012 email to then Western Cape MEC for Economic Development Alan Winde, who had complained that the packaging resembled a children’s juice box. Mr Kovensky said the email and attached artwork to Mr Winde had made it “patently clear” that a wine logo would simply be added to the cartons featuring the goat and that “no such agreement was reached or for that matter even discussed regarding any other design changes”.

He said he would be contacting Mr Plato and Ms Little to correct the “misinformation” as it had appeared in various media reports four years ago.

In the email, dated June 27 2012, Mr Kovensky writes that he undertakes to introduce the changes to the packaging of Mal Piet 250ml as “discussed and illustrated in the artwork I emailed to you”.

He says it will take about four months to deplete the old packaging and replace it with new packaging bearing the wine logo. In the interim, he writes, self-adhesive printed labels with the new wine glass logo will be applied to the carton.

“We will issue self-adhesive labels with every case of Mal Piet requesting that a label be applied to each 250ml pack.

“We will also issue self-adhesive labels to distributors and retailers that sell Mal Piet for application to each 250ml pack. The self-adhesive labels will be in the trade by no later than 7 July 2012.”

In the attached artwork provided by Mr Kovensky, a wine logo has been placed at the bottom left-hand corner of the packaging, below cartoon grapes being chewed by the goat. This corresponds with the photographs of the empty cartons sent to the Tatler by Frog representatives.

However Dr Sue Goldstein, an honorary lecturer in the School of Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand and an expert on branding and marketing directed at children, described the packaging as “appalling”.

“It is obviously targeting children for a number of reasons: the bright colours and animal character; the size of the container and finally the price (R5.20),” she said.

“It is outrageous that this is probably the cheapest available drink, including water and milk, in the shops; and, finally, the name – it doesn’t sound like alcohol at all. Mal Piet sounds like a cartoon character, and, this is encouraged by the picture.

She said it was well known internationally that price and size were effective marketing tools and something cheap and small was designed to appeal to young people.

“This is why in the tobacco laws it is illegal to market less than 20 cigarettes – and selling single cigarettes is illegal.

“In a country and in a province where alcohol causes billions of rands of harm this product should be totally taken off the market.

“I will write to the Minister of Health and the Minister of Social Development, as the head of the inter-ministerial committee on alcohol, about this.”