State attorneys general have a new target: an alcoholic fruit drink made by Pabst Brewing Co. that they are terming a “Binge-in-a-Can.”
The Pabst product is called “Blast by Colt 45,” has a much higher alcohol content than beer and comes in such flavors as grape, strawberry watermelon and blueberry pomegranate. The fruit flavors, as well as the marketing, is oriented towards youthful drinkers, maintain the AGs, who have a history of getting such products removed from the market.
Pabst, in a statement, denied it is marketing the product to underage drinkers.
On Thursday, 18 attorneys general – both Republicans and Democrats and from a wide range of states from California to Iowa to Massachusetts – sent a letter to Pabst asking it to take Blast off the market. Sales of the product began this month.
Blast contains 12 percent alcohol compared with 4 percent to 6 percent for most beers. It is being promoted on hip-hop radio stations, at concerts, and by popular hip-hop/rap artist Snoop Dogg. According to the state AGs, each can of the product, which comes as large as 23.5 ounces, is equal to drinking as much as five servings of alcohol.
“The problem with this product is that it is marketed at kids, young African-American children,” says Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, who is leading the AGs’ effort to end production of the product. “It’s being marketed through Facebook and Twitter.”
‘Progressive adult beverages’ booming
The introduction of the product comes at a time of high sales growth for what the industry is calling “progressive adult beverages.” Some of these have combined caffeine and alcohol and have subsequently been pulled off the market after complaints by attorneys general and consumer groups. According to a web presentation by Nick Osborne, Pabst’s marketing director, sales of these beverages grew by 17.4 percent last year and 8 out of 10 new brands were in this category.
“It’s not your typical consumer for malt liquor, it’s much broader,” he said in a January presentation to Pabst’s distributors.
In describing Blast, the chairman of Pabst, Dean Metropoulous, called it a “uniquely positioned product.”
The company then described a marketing campaign that appears to be heavily aimed at the African-American community because of the campaign’s heavy use of hip-hop concerts and radio stations.
“It’s bad because they are using hip-hop to target the predominately black community,” says the Rev. Paul Scott, founder of the Messianic Afrikan Nation ministry in Durham, N.C., in an interview.
Reverend Scott, who led a successful campaign against Phat Boy Malt Liquor in 1998 and the “Pimp Juice” Energy drink in 2003, says he is “especially concerned because this is the start of the prom season and graduation time.”
Pitchman Snoop Dogg
In the case of Blast, one of the major marketing efforts is with Snoop Dogg, a popular performer and media star who has over 3 million followers on his Twitter account.
“Some are young, some are old,” says Paul Porter, who runs Industryears.com, a media think tank in Washington. “Here’s a guy who was a presenter at Nickleodeon’s Kids Choice Awards and then has a party for Blast. He does some good things, which is what makes it confusing. I love Snoop Dogg to death but he’s wrong on this one.”
Mr. Porter says another hip-hop performer, Talib Kweili, quickly ended Blast’s sponsorship of a performance on Monday after he was alerted to the issue.
Pabst issued a statement, through a New York public relations firm, Kekst and Co., “Blast is only meant to be consumed by those above legal drinking age and does not contain caffeine. As with all Pabst products, our marketing efforts for Blast are focused on conveying the message of drinking responsibly. To that end, the alcohol content of Blast is clearly marked on its packaging, we are encouraging consumers to consider mixing Blast with other beverages or enjoy it over ice, and we are offering a special 7 ounce bottle for those who prefer a smaller quantity, among other important initiatives.”
AGs’ past successes
Attorney General Gansler says the alcoholic beverage companies usually don’t want to admit to targeting underage drinkers. But, he expects they will ultimately remove the product from the market.
He has some cause to be optimistic. Five years ago, some of the companies produced alcoholic popsicles with flavors such as lemonade. After pressure from the AGs and activists, they were removed. Then, three years ago, Anheuser-Busch made a product, targeted to young women, called Spykes, which came in perfume size bottles in flavors such as banana, watermelon and grape. After pressure from the AGs it was removed from the market.
More recently, some companies started producing products that combined alcohol and caffeine with names such as Four Loko and Joose. A few months ago, the AGs got those products removed from shelves in several states.
“These companies are making a lot of money on their products, they don’t need to market them to children,” says Gansler. “There has to be some limits on what they can do.”