The Portman Group, the responsibility body for drinks producers in the UK, has slammed a survey that claims to show primary school children are more familiar with beer brands than biscuits.

The survey of English and Scottish children, commissioned by alcohol Concern, Alcohol Focus Scotland, Balance North East and Drink Wise North West, also found half of children associate their favourite football teams and tournaments with the beer brands that sponsor them. One in two children associate Carlsberg with the England football team, for example, and almost six in ten boys associated Chang beer with Everton football club, according to the findings.

Other linkages include a 93% brand recognition for Foster’s lager, ahead of McVitie’s, McCoy’s and Ben & Jerry’s, and 79% recognised the Foster’s characters Brad and Dan from the television commercial.

The Portman Group dismissed the findings as “yet another weak and misleading piece of research”. It said Alcohol Concern had chosen to ignore the official government statistics that showed underage drinking had been falling at a significant rate for the last 10 years.

“Alcohol sponsorship is already strictly controlled in the UK and drinks companies are required to actively promote responsible drinking as part of their sponsorship agreements,” a spokesman said. “This commitment is unique to the alcohol sector and has been welcomed by government. Alcohol sponsorship also makes a significant contribution to the country’s economy, and provides essential support for grassroots programmes nationwide.”

The spokesman added that bans on alcohol sponsorship did not reduce harm from alcohol. In France, an alcohol sponsorship and marketing ban had been accompanied by two decades of increasingly harmful drinking amongst children and teenagers.

“The drinks industry will keep working as committed partners of national and local government to tackle underage drinking through life skills education for children, strict enforcement on underage sales and robust ID schemes,” the spokesman said.

The British Beer & Pub Association, said that any objective look at the issue would highlight that alcohol consumption in the UK was sharply down, by as much as 18 per cent since 2004, and drinking amongst young people was also down. 

“Advertising designed to achieve brand differentiation does not encourage irresponsible consumption, nor is it aimed at young people.  If we want more young people to get active, why pursue policies that would undermine sports sponsorship? Around £300m comes from alcohol sponsorship, with some £50m going directly to grassroots sport,” a spokesman said.

Advertiser trade body the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) thought advertisers would be puzzled by the pressure group claims that their adverts have resulted in greater childhood awareness of beer and that where it happens translates into a lifelong habit.  “The evidence does not exist in this report or elsewhere,” a spokeswoman said. “ISBA and the wider advertising industry are highly committed to maintaining strict rules…. we take some comfort in that alcohol consumption by children has been steadily falling in the UK, including in Scotland.”

She added that the advertising rules in the UK were “very strict” and the Portman Group’s sponsorship and marketing codes were “equally robust.”