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How to get your Roxxoff

Laddettes help the UK to top of the alcopops league

Brewer's droop may be a thing of the past: now you can booze and increase your libido at the same time. A new generation of alcopops, according to the manufacturers, is about to take the youth drinking market by storm. The claim is that the drinks will boost sexual performance and have already met with fierce condemnation on the grounds that they can only make the problem of binge drinking and unwanted pregnancies worse.

A spokesman for the Institute of Alcohol Studies said, "Roxxoff and its imitators demonstrate the appalling cynicism of an industry which has no scruples as to how it markets its wares to young people. Alcohol is already a major factor in unwanted sexual encounters and, in the unlikely event of these literally distasteful products actually fulfilling their lubricious promise, they can only do great harm. If the Portman Group is more than the industry's poodle, it needs to act decisively."

It is predicted that these will flood into bars this summer as drink industry marketing campaigns target young clubbers with a heady new range of products that are already becoming known as 'Viagra pops'.

In a particularly lurid phrase drinks manufacturers claim that these powerful concoctions of vodka, passion fruit, and Chinese aphrodisiacs will create a 'generation of randy super beings'. The industry confidently expects the new drinks to have the same impact on the market as the appearance alcopops did in the 1990s.

None of the drinks will actually contain Viagra which are produced by the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Instead they rely on Chinese herbs such as cordyceps and epimedium grandiflorum, better known as Horny Goat Weed, to give the drinker an amorous boost

The first of these brands, wittily named Roxxoff, will sell for as little as £1.50 when it appears in the UK. It is believed that at least three other companies are about to launch their own versions.

"This is what everyone in the business is talking about," said a drink industry source. "For months now firms have been trying to get the blends right in time for the warm weather."

Marketing experts estimate that this new product could generate sales of over five million cases in their first year.

Lynch Wines, a company operating from Surrey, is launching Roxxoff, which has an alcohol content of 5.4 per cent, in a series of advertisements starring Dannii Minogue. Initial publicity promises a "sensational scientifically blended concoction of potent and proven aphrodisiacs' that could lead to 'a generation of randy super beings'."

The prospect of Viagra pops and the tone of the hype surrounding them has appalled experts in the field of alcohol problems. Jack Law, of the Glasgow-based group Alcohol Focus, has called for a ban on Roxxof. He says that it clearly breaches the guidelines set up by the industry's own Portman Group. This "code of practice states any drink or its packaging should not suggest any association with sexual success or that it can enhance physical capabilities," he said.

"Roxxoff, sends out a completely irresponsible message to the young drinkers it is aimed at and will only increase the likelihood of binge drinking and unsafe sex."

Campaigners at Alcohol Concern warned that such drinks could lead to an increase in date rapes and teenage pregnancies. "We would like to see these banned, whether they improve sexual performance or not," a spokesman said. "Lots of surveys have suggested teenagers regret having unprotected sex when drunk, so this is worrying."

However, Lynch Wines reply is that many "young people go to clubs and bars to meet people with a view to having sex - we are just helping them on their way." Presumably the company is sceptical as to the potency of British youth and has selflessly cast itself in the role of pander.

"We are acutely aware of our responsibilities. This doesn't look like a kid's drink and isn't designed to fool one into thinking it's lemonade."

The appearance of these 'passion potions' comes as recently published figures show that the United Kingdom has become the biggest market for alcopops in Europe. New drinking patterns among young women and the "ladette culture" have helped give us this unenviable distinction.

The fact that drinkers in Britain spent £5 million a day on alcopops last year emerges as the Government's long-delayed alcohol strategy is being drawn up and as ministers consider how to deal with the rising tide of alcoholism in Britain, particularly among women. The appeal of alcopops is most strongly felt by young women, attracted by the sweet taste as well as aggressive marketing methods.

"Young female consumers are still by far the key target market," said John Band of Datamonitor, the consumer analysts. "On top of the easy-to-drink sweeter taste, brands such as Archers Aqua have a deliberate feminine focus in terms of packaging and content, and they offer higher alcohol content than beers.

"While nobody wants a beer gut, most women find the prospect rather more upsetting than most men."

Sales of alcopops in 2002 amounted to more than £2 billion, a rise of 50 per cent since 2001. Analysts of the drink industry say the increase in the alcopops market has been fuelled by enthusiasm for alcoholic soft drinks and a trend towards pre-mixed spirits.

"There will always be a ready market for sweet-tasting drinks that mask the taste of alcohol," Mr Band said.

"The drinks industry's great success has been to create sweet drinks which are seen as premium products and which may even appeal to experienced drinkers."

He went on to suggest that the popularity of alcopops would grow across Europe, but that Britain's top position would remain "unrivalled" over the next five years. So far there has been little sign of a boom in sales in countries like France and Spain.

At the moment alcopops are still largely a northern European phenomenon. British consumers' per capita expenditure on alcopops was £33 last year. The Irish spent £49 a head, largely because the brands are more expensive there.

Mr Band said that it was "not surprising that the UK and other north European countries lead the market. They are about going out at the weekend and getting tipsy. In Spain, Italy and France, where people spread alcohol consumption throughout the week and drink because they enjoy the taste, alcopops are never going to have the same impact."