Hard Solo has sold out at many Dan Murphy’s, BWS, Liquorland and independent bottle shops across country, with calls to ban the RTD fuelling its popularity.
Bottle shop owners report sales were already booming due to positive word of mouth before Cancer Council WA and politicians including the Teal MPs started pushing for it to be taken off shelves.
Several bottle shops told the Daily Mail that their Hard Solo supplies had sold out this week on the back of publicity.
“There would be the odd four pack around, but it’s completely sold out for us,” one said. “I had one bloke buy a case after hearing talk on the radio they wanted to ban it.”
Endeavour Group CEO Steve Donohue told investors during the company’s FY23 results briefing on Wednesday that the RTD space was “going faster and bigger” than it ever had before. He noted that lemon-flavoured beverages were performing particularly strongly and confirmed that Hard Solo was selling out in some Dan Murphy’s stores.
The alcoholic version of the popular soft drink Solo was quietly released by CUB last month, without any traditional out-of-home advertising, TV or radio campaigns. It is also not being advertised on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or YouTube.
The drink comes in four, 10 and 24-packs of 375mL cans and has an ABV of 4.5%.
CUB CEO Danny Celoni said Hard Solo had hit the market with “real impact” and he was looking forward to unlocking category value growth.
However, Cancer Council WA described it as a “particularly concerning example of alcohol marketing” and made a complaint to the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) Scheme about the product.
“We submitted a complaint about Hard Solo on the basis that Solo is a well-known soft drink brand in Australia, which is popular with children and teenagers, and has highly recognisable branding, packaging, and advertising,” Cancer Council WA said.
“The Hard Solo product is an extension of the soft drink brand, using the same colours, icon and font on the packaging and the same can shape as the Solo soft drink. The appeal of Hard Solo to minors is evident given the established appeal of Solo to minors.
“Every West Australian should be able to grow up and live in an environment that supports their health and wellbeing. The current reality is that alcohol companies develop and promote products that appeal to young people, and that West Australians, including children, are constantly bombarded with promotions for alcohol. Governments can and must set higher standards for how the alcohol industry markets and sells its products.”
Kylea Tink, the MP for North Sydney, said questions needed to be asked of the company and the Alcoholic Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) panel.
“This is a product that looks like a soft drink, tastes like a soft drink, has the same name as a soft drink, went through a self-regulatory process and seemingly was approved to be marketed,” she said.
“To me that there is nothing about this product that makes it an acceptable product to have on the shelf when it comes to alcoholic beverages.”
Independent Brewers Association CEO Kylie Lethbridge told The Daily Telegraph she shares Kylea Tink’s concerns.
“I call it a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s black and yellow instead of yellow and black. It is absolutely alcoholic Solo. Obviously, a company like Asahi can do whatever they want but we think it’s probably one of the most damaging things that has happened to alcohol for a little while. We’re unsure of what those ramifications are going to be but we’re trying to work through them at the minute.”
CUB defends Hard Solo release
CUB spokesman Hayden Turner said Hard Solo had a taste reminiscent of the classic Solo but with a bitter finish provided by the alcohol.
Turner told The Sydney Morning Herald that features including distinct black cans and prominent alcohol markings ensured Hard Solo could not be confused with the non-alcoholic lemon squash drink.
CUB reiterated its stance in a statement: “Hard Solo is sold in distinct black cans with prominent alcohol markings on the front of the can with the words ‘Alcoholic Lemon’ along with the 18+ logo, standard drinks and alcohol percentage in large and bright font.
“It is the first-time 18+ has appeared on the front of one of our alcoholic products further demonstrating our commitment to differentiate Hard Solo from regular Solo.”
The product received pre-vetting approval from ABAC.