How do you get the vodka inside the Caramilk bar? You put it in a bottle, of course.

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This article was published 9/8/2010 (4060 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

How do you get the vodka inside the Caramilk bar? You put it in a bottle, of course.

Cadbury Canada, makers of what they boast is the fourth most popular chocolate bar in the country, launched Caramilk Cream Liquor in Manitoba a few weeks ago, just a couple of months after Caramilk Cream Cooler hit liquor store shelves. But the packaging is similar enough to Caramilk's chocolate shake beverage, as well as the iconic candy bar, to raise red flags about whether these alcoholic products should be available at all.

Caramilk liquor products (rear left and centre) have similar labelling as non-liquor products.

JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA

Caramilk liquor products (rear left and centre) have similar labelling as non-liquor products.

Critics say there's a good chance children could mistake the alcoholic version for the virgin one.

Andrew Murie, chief executive officer of MADD Canada, said Cadbury is essentially disguising alcohol as a chocolate bar in a pair of beverages that will appeal to young people, girls in particular.

"It's an easy way to consume alcohol because it tastes more like candy than traditional alcohol tastes. Long before coolers came along, it was a learning experience how to drink alcohol because it didn't taste very good," he said.

Murie said at first blush, the cooler and the chocolate shake have almost identical packaging.

"(The cooler) doesn't separate itself well at all," he said. "These are products you have to watch very carefully. They can give you a bad experience. If you're not an experienced drinker then whoomp, all of a sudden you're really drunk and bad things can happen," he said.

The director of the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba has similar worries. "We would definitely be concerned about it from a kid's perspective, for sure," said Laura Goossen.

She said while neither alcoholic beverage is available for sale where minors can shop, authority figures aren't always manning household refrigerator doors when a child is in search of something tasty to drink.

"There's always a concern about messaging. If you make something look like it's benign, like a chocolate shake, is there an inadvertent message that the (alcoholic) drink is benign, too?" she said.

Cadbury did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Susan Harrison, communications co-ordinator for the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission, said Caramilk's new products were deemed acceptable by its listing committee because they are sold in MLCC locations and not convenience or grocery stores.

"Caramilk is a global brand so their packaging is the same whether it's the milk, alcohol or chocolate bar," she said.

She said parents should use common sense with the liquor-laced chocolate, as they would with any other product that could be accidently used by a child, and keep the bottles in a locked cabinet or otherwise out of reach of children.

"If there is a kid and adult equivalent, parents should use caution and keep it away from kids if there's any room for confusion," she said.

Cadbury's move brings up two primary points, according to Derrick Coupland, a partner at Blacksheep Strategy, a Winnipeg branding strategy company.

One is the potential for the company to extend its well-established brand into a new category and the second is a potential moral issue in promoting an alcoholic beverage that is closely identified with a Halloween staple.

Coupland said Cadbury even lists "protecting children" on its website as part of its global set of values for consumer marketing.

"The company says it will operate within a certain code of ethics. Is this squarely within that code or is it pushing the boundaries a bit?" he said.

Coupland said he doesn't believe there has been a deliberate attempt to market the chocolate-flavoured booze to minors, although Cadbury might be targeting a younger adult demographic.

"There's a potential Pandora's box of letting a standard go knowing that kids are likely to see promotion for this type of product and the branding is identical to what we've been giving to our kids at Halloween and having our kids consume," he said.

Harrison said Caramilk's Cream Liquor has "come of the gate really nicely," capturing six per cent of the cream liqueur category in a very short period. It's still far behind the market leader, Baileys Irish Cream, which has 60 per cent market share.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca