lcopop is a term describing certain flavoured alcoholic beverages, including malt beverages to which various fruit juices or other flavourings have been added; beverages containing wine to which ingredients such as fruit juice or other flavourings have been added (wine coolers), or beverages containing distilled alcohol and added ingredients such as fruit juices or other flavourings. The term ‘alcopop’ (a portmanteau of the words alcohol and pop) is used by advocates of tighter restrictions on alcoholic beverage sales, who argue that the beverages are especially appealing to underage drinkers. Other terms include FAB (flavoured alcoholic beverage), FMB (flavoured malt beverage), PPS (pre-packaged spirit or premium packaged spirits), and RTD (Ready To Drink – Aus & NZ). The alcohol industry does not use the term “alcopop.” Alcopops tend to be sweet and served in small bottles (typically 330 ml in Europe and 355 ml, the normal size of a soda pop can, in North America), and between 4% and 7% alcohol by volume.
In Europe and Canada, alcopops tend to be pre-mixed spirits, including vodka (e.g. Smirnoff Ice) or rum (e.g. Bacardi Breezer). In the United States, on the other hand, alcopops often start out as un-hopped beers, depending on the state in which they are sold. Much of the malt (and alcohol) is removed (leaving mostly water), with subsequent addition of alcohol (usually vodka or grain alcohol), sugar, colouring and flavouring. Such drinks are legally classified as beers in virtually all states and can thus be sold in outlets that do not or cannot carry spirit-based drinks. There are, however, stronger ones that are simply pre-mixed spirits (e.g. Bacardi Rum Island Iced Tea), often containing about 12.5% alcohol by volume, that can only be sold where hard liquor is available. In the United States there is a proportionally limited tax on alcopops relative to those sold in Europe, though some states are considering legislation to bring their tax levels closer to the European model which is credited with limiting consumption by youth. According to the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB): Flavored malt beverages are brewery products that differ from traditional malt beverages such as beer, ale, lager, porter, stout, or malt liquor in several respects. Flavored malt beverages exhibit little or no traditional beer or malt beverage character.
Their flavour is derived primarily from added flavours rather than from malt and other materials used in fermentation. At the same time, flavoured malt beverages are marketed in traditional beer-type bottles and cans and distributed to the alcohol beverage market through beer and malt beverage wholesalers, and their alcohol content is similar to other malt beverages in the 4-6% alcohol by volume range. Although flavoured malt beverages are produced at breweries, their method of production differs significantly from the production of other malt beverages and beer. In producing flavoured malt beverages, brewers brew a fermented base of beer from malt and other brewing materials. Brewers then treat this base using a variety of processes in order to remove malt beverage character from the base. For example, they remove the colour, bitterness, and taste generally associated with beer, ale, porter, stout, and other malt beverages. This leaves a base product to which brewers add various flavours, which typically contain distilled spirits, to achieve the desired taste profile and alcohol level. While the alcohol content of flavoured malt beverages is similar to that of most traditional malt beverages, the alcohol in many of them is derived primarily from the distilled spirits component of the added flavours rather than from fermentation.
In some Continental European countries, such as Austria and Germany, bottled beer cocktails and shandies are available, which are being marketed the same way like alcopops. However, these beverages are based on traditional hopped beers and therefore not considered to be alcopops. Alcopop is also the name of a horse participating in the 2009 Melbourne Cup. Wine coolers gained popularity in the US market in the 1980s when Bartles and Jaymes began advertising their brand of wine coolers, which were followed by other brands, including when Bacardi introduced the Breezer.
A growth in popularity occurred around 1993 with Two Dogs, DNA Alcoholic Spring Water, Hooper’s Hooch and Zima, which was marketed under the title of “malternative beverage”. Wine coolers were on the decline due to the increase in the US federal wine tax, and using a malt-beverage base became the new industry standard. Later, Mike’s Hard Lemonade was released in the United States, with humorous commercials depicting what they called “violence against lemons”. Smirnoff also came out with another citrus-flavoured malt beverage in the United States in the late 1990s called Smirnoff Ice, which promoted itself with flashy commercials, usually involving trendy young people dancing in unlikely situations and places. (In the UK, Smirnoff Ice is marketed by Diageo as a PPS.)
Some have expressed concern that such drinks might appeal to children as they tend to be sweet and brightly collared. Many alcopop advertising campaigns have been criticized as trying to make alcopops appeal to young drinkers. In the United Kingdom, that led to a media outcry during the mid-1990s as the tabloid press associated alcopops with “under-age” drinking which damaged sales and would lead to off-licences withdrawing them from their stores. In response to a complaint from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) conducted an extensive investigation in 2001. The agency “found no evidence of intent to target minors with the FMB products, packaging, or advertising. Furthermore, after reviewing the consumer survey evidence submitted by CSPI in support of the proposition that FMBs were predominantly popular with minors, the FTC concluded that flaws in the survey’s methodology limited the ability to draw conclusions from the survey data.” The Federal Trade Commission again in 2003 investigated FMB ads, product placement, and internal company marketing documents after a directive from the conferees of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.
“The Commission’s investigation found no evidence of targeting underage consumers in the marketing of FMBs. Adults 21 to 29 appear to be the intended target of FMB marketing” and found that “the majority of FMB drinkers are over the age of 27.” In December 2003, Ireland raised the tax on alcopops to equal that of spirits, the second highest in Europe. Germany has imposed an extra duty of 0.80 to 0.90 euro per bottle effective August 1, 2004. To circumvent higher taxation, some German producers have switched to wine coolers, which are being marketed the same way. Some bottles now carry a warning stating that they are not for consumption by people under the legal drinking age (under 18 in the UK and 21 in the United States). On May 11, 2008, the Australian Government increased the excise tax on alcopops by 70%, to bring it inline with the tax on spirits.
There is the concern this tax will encourage consumers to buy straight spirits and mix the drinks themselves, possibly resulting in drinks with a higher alcohol concentration than the premixed alternatives. This tax was revoked during March 2009 meaning the government had to pay back the 290 million collected on the tax. The Federal Trade Commission report states, “Further, industry-conducted research on consumers over the age of 21 who use FMBs shows that these consumers generally view the FMBs as substitutes for beer… This research also concludes that consumers are not likely to consume more than two or three FMBs on any occasion because of the products’ sweetness.