Anti-Counterfeiting Beer

Anti-Counterfeiting Beer: A Necessary Measure

Beer counterfeiting is one of the most significant cases of illicit alcohol distribution in the UK: 2012 estimates suggest that between 5% and 14% of all the beer consumed here is done so illicitly.

Ultramatis, pioneering creators of a revolutionary anti-counterfeiting beer process, discuss the beer counterfeiting situation and offer their unique solution to this serious issue.

A widespread problem

A 2013 survey by PwC found that around 18% of UK residents admit to having bought counterfeit alcohol, a figure that increases to 28% among 18-34 year olds. Many of those who purchase illicit alcohol aren’t aware that they are doing so, and unethical establishments across the country take advantage of this to profit from counterfeit products.

A public health issue

Ron Gainsford, Chief Executive of the Trading Standards Institute, speaks up about the counterfeit beverages problem: “We’re very concerned about this trend in the availability of fake alcohol. It’s not just about false bargains; counterfeit spirits and wine could be lethal.”

Indeed, consumption of counterfeit alcohol can lead to a number of health issues, such as abdominal pain, nausea, dizziness, blindness, and even death, pointing to a real need for an effective measure for anti-counterfeiting beer and other alcohols.

Brand devaluation

An anti-counterfeiting beer solution isn’t just crucial on the grounds of the health risks involved; the selling of sub-standard and counterfeited products greatly impacts the reputation and ethics of the companies who are the victims of the scams.

A recent instance of this occurred in Vietnam, where a gang was mixing genuine Heineken and Tiger beer with cheap domestic beers, and selling them at full price to restaurants and eateries in Ho Chi Minh City, devaluing the brand reputation of well-established companies.

Ultramatis: reliably anti-counterfeiting beer

A spin-out of the University of Leeds and led by experts in their field, Ultramatis have produced a ground-breaking technology that implants a unique optical fingerprint into the actual substance of a glass bottle. Aptly named the ultrafast laser plasma implantation platform manufacturing technique for advanced functional materials, the process ensures that each bottle can be reliable identified as genuine via a static or light-activated design that can be scanned for verification.

The counterfeiting of beer in the UK is widespread and poses considerable risk to human health.

Trading standards have estimated that 1 in 5 off licences sell counterfeit beer and entire factories have been found in the UK with the capability to both produce bottles as well as fill them. What is perhaps most troubling about this is that the alcohol content is often created using industrial alcohols like methanol, primarily sourced from highly toxic chemicals like anti-freeze. These chemicals, as well as others, can cause blindness, organ failure and even death. One of the reasons that alcohol has been so widely counterfeited in the UK is that it is very easy to reproduce the standard anti-counterfeiting beer solutions currently used. For example, bar codes and holograms. As such, counterfeit alcohol has been booming in the UK, with growth rates reported as 5 fold over the past 5 years. 2015, much like previous years, saw seizures of counterfeit beer across the UK, including over 130,000 litres of counterfeit vodka worth £1.7m from a factory in Wigan. Of course the health implications are considerable and scary, but the financial costs also should be considered, where alcohol fraud is estimated to cost the UK £1b each year and threatens a great many jobs around the country. Anti-counterfeiting beer strategies have been quite diverse, for example changing the design of the bottle, using caps that cannot be resealed, electronic tagging (RFID) and more.

The industry is well aware of the issue and is actively seeking new anti-counterfeiting beer technologies to help protect their products now and in the future. This is where Ultramatis can make a big impact. Our anti-counterfeiting beer technology is entirely unique and offers broad security and authentication tools which can be detected throughout the supply chain. Scan times could be as short as a few seconds or less, making is readily accessible at every level. The multi-level authenticity comes from the unique way in which the surface of the glass packaging has been processed, each security level can be checked from a single hand-held or automated device. This innovative technology also offers the capability of smart branding, where the surface design, much like a stencilled in marking on the glass, can either have a light activated colouring, for example, UV light triggers a visible glow from the surface, or a static colouring, where the colour is always visible. Presently, there is no way to deliver this kind of capability to a glass surface without using a paint, such a paint would not be capable of delivering the same level of anti-counterfeiting and would also be very easy to replicate and thus counterfeit. This is the advantage of using a sophisticated technique like ULPI.

For more information about Ultramatis’ technology, which has effective and cutting-edge applications in anti-counterfeiting beer and other alcohols, as well as in the perfume and pharmaceutical industries, get in contact on +44 (0) 845 094 1503 or at