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Roundup 2014: Bizarre Booze Edition

If an industry’s desperation can be measured by the lengths it goes to in order to attract customers, 2014’s been an anxious one for alcohol manufacturers. At least that’s one inference we can draw from the glut of weird, poorly thought-out products that contain or emulate alcohol we’ve seen this year.

Here are just some of the strange products that’ve hit the headlines over the last twelve months:

January: although they didn’t rise to notoriety until May, Phrosties – alcoholic slushies ordered via Instagram – had their beginnings early in New York’s winter. Brightly coloured, and with a business model appealing directly to youth, punters ordered by texting a number off an Instagram account, and received delivery an hour or two later. The catch? Being completely unregulated and unlicensed, there was no telling what was in them, and they were swiftly banned by New York state.

February: continuing the trend of putting alcohol where it shouldn’t be, US company Mercer released a series of wine-infused ice cream flavours. While the actual alcohol content ranges between about 0.5% and 3%, the danger is that people might not even know they’re consuming alcohol, which is especially dangerous for children and pregnant women. Although legal in some US states, legislation in others prevents it from being sold, and it’s not available in Australia – for the moment.

April: the tasteful creators of the ‘breast-milk lollipop’ announced a line of new beer-flavoured lollipops. If you were intentionally designing a product to normalise the consumption of alcohol to children, you’d probably end up with something like this. Manufacturers may not necessarily set out to cynically target children, but by not thinking about how the products they develop with be used and seen, that’s exactly how it comes across. The founder of the lollipop company’s quoted as saying “I’ve basically always wanted to own a bar,” and we’re left wondering why he didn’t just do that.

May: just in time for summer in the UK, alcoholic icy poles were announced. Once again, these were developed by entrepreneurs, continuing the alarming trend of people simply not considering – or not caring about – the negative health impacts their products perpetuate, or the very real risk inherent in alcoholising a children’s treat. It’s easy for the industry to write off these concerns as overbearing and overstated, but research shows that “children who have used candy cigarettes are more likely to become smokers.” Why would we assume it should be any different for candy cocktails?

June: liquid ethanol is so 2013. This year’s most talked about new product comes powdered. Palcohol hit the headlines as having regulatory approval in the US, and then backpeddled in the face of overwhelming public concern; state-by-state bans are currently underway. Most bizarrely, a visit to Palcohol’s website shows them hawking their powdered booze as useful for commercial, medical and manufacturing applications. Definitely no teenagers sneaking it into music festivals, then. It’s an abrupt turnaround after the brand was lambasted for marketing directly at youth, suggesting on their website people mix it with guacamole and add it to food.

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Although we’re lucky that very few of these products made it to Australia, it’s concerning how many of them will appeal to children, intentionally or otherwise. The fact most of them come from entrepreneurs rather than corporations highlights the fact that people are always out to make a quick buck, and that unless we’ve got a broad and powerful regulatory framework in place, their success might come at the price of our well-being.

In 2015 GrogWatch will continue to highlight where we see Big Alcohol and other industries overstep boundaries, but we need your help. Have you seen something you’re concerned about? Send us an email or comment below. You can also make a complaint to the Alcohol Advertising Review Board.