Slide towards higher ID ages threatens drinks shops' sales

29 June, 2007

Retailers forced into Challenge 25 as supermarkets opt for higher ground

Drinks shops face losing sales as they come under pressure to change their ID policies, warns a top retailer.

Rhythm & Booze joint managing director Martin Swaine said he had been pushed by authorities to move to Challenge 25 in two of his South Yorkshire shops following Tesco's decision to trial a Challenge 30 policy in the area.

Swaine said: "Tesco has had an impact by moving to Challenge 30. We've moved to Challenge 25 in a couple of stores - Rossington and Armthorpe - because the police and Trading Standards asked us to. The unfortunate effect of this is that it means we're refusing sales to people who are definitely old enough to purchase alcohol - and we need all the trade we can get in this day and age."

Tesco is trialling Challenge 30 on all age-restricted products in 10 shops in South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, while Asda has rolled out Challenge 25 in 10 Scottish stores.

Swaine described the creep towards higher ID ages as "really over the top". He said: "All you're doing is insulting your customers and half of them are walking out in disgust. It's getting to the point where customers will have to have their pension book before we'll be able to serve them ."

Swaine added the police recommendation had led to a "ludicrous" situation where customers not able to prove they were 25 at one shop would still be able to buy alcohol from another branch of Rhythm & Booze a couple of miles away.

Swaine said staff are "getting really fed up, and it's getting very hard to recruit people".

He added: "The only proper cure for this is a well-thought-out and well-designed national ID scheme, then everybody will know where they stand."

Independent retailer John Mitchell, of Sheffield's Mitchell's Vintners, said some customers still react negatively and aggressively to his shop's Challenge 21 policy. S taff recently called the police after customers who looked over 18 but under 21 reacted violently to being asked for ID .

"If this is what the government wants - the emphasis on shopkeepers policing things - if they want us to help them they have to bring out ID cards," Mitchell said.

Matthew Hughes, joint managing director of Bargain Booze, said his business had no plans to move from its current Challenge 21 policy .

He said: " We and our retailers are not feeling that as pressure yet, but as Tesco and Asda are doing it in some stores - when the big boys are accepting this as best practice - it isn't too long before the rest of the industry is feeling the pressure with some kind of intensity."

He added: "I would resist it because I don't believe it's necessary and that is borne out by the improved test purchase figures. Challenge 21 is sufficient as long as it's properly implemented. I can't see anything that will change my position ."

Prime Minister expected to act on price promotions

Almost 200 MPs have now called for an end to "irresponsible" price promotions on alcohol in the off-trade.

MP John Grogan's Early Day Motion, which claims that cheap alcohol is exacerbating the problem of binge drinking, has attracted 198 signatures, making it one of the most popularly backed motions. Grogan said: "I do now think it's very firmly on the political agenda and will be one of the items that Gordon Brown will tackle."

Grogan said he had received support from several small drinks retailers for his motion, which also calls for alcohol not to be sold as a loss leader.

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