Industry tackles problem drinking

18 May, 2007

How can retailers get involved in sensible drinking campaigns?

This month there has been a two-pronged attack on "booze Britain" and the binge-drinking culture that is supposedly predominant in our society.

At the Wine & Spirit Trade Association's spring conference, the EU Wine Plan for Responsible Consumption Communication was launched in a bid to make moderate drinking fashionable , then last week the Drinkaware Trust announced that, thanks to donations from the drinks industry, it has raised £2.7 million to help tackle problem drinking and encourage people to drink alcohol in a "safe and responsible way ".

According to data released by the Office of National Statistics at the end of last year, the number of alcohol-related deaths doubled between 1991 and 2005, rising from 4,144 in 1991 to 8,386 in 2005, so it is evident there is a need to clamp down on the misuse of alcohol.

But will these latest moves to change UK society's relationship with alcohol be effective and will the message get to those who really need to hear it? More importantly, how are drinks retailers expected to support it?

The EU Wine Plan is based around a "common message" which will include information on the history and culture of wine ; the production process ; existing regulations; links between wine, diet and health; facts on use and misuse; knowledge of the law and ­the implications of not complying, and trends in production and consumption.

In fact, information that almost all those working in the trade already know, but that their customers may not be so aware of.

That information will be rolled out to the trade and the public in three ways: through the newly-formed Wine Information Council, an education campaign called Arts de Vivre and the European Wine Communication Standards.

The target audience for the common message includes current wine drinkers, adults who consume alcohol and young adults of the legal drinking age.

So how can retailers help relay that message to the plan's target audience? WSTA chief executive Jeremy Beadles said many retailers were already spreading much of the message by ­interacting directly with customers and building relationships with them.

He said others had well-trained staff to give customers the right information about wine.

However, he added that the trade would be gtiven more information over the next month as to what the EU Wine Plan is about.

Beadles said: "A lot of retailers are already engaged in the debate, but we are making all our members aware and will be giving more practical advice to them. We will be launching a social responsibility tool kit soon after the London International Wine & Spirit Fair and are also producing flyers for new starters to the trade for companies to give them."

Beadles said companies with less customer contact were in a trickier situation, but were using more innovative ways to educate customers about wine and sensible consumption.

He said: "It's more difficult in the supermarket aisle where people are interacting for short times, but many of the supermarkets are doing what they can.

"Tesco has been running its Tesco Wine Fairs and a big part of that is about education . Many of the others have in-house magazines now and a lot of them carry conte nt which relates to the products so they can interact with the customers that way."

But retailers should remember that the onus is not solely on them to spread the message about moderate drinking .

The Arts de Vivre campaign will be rolled out on a national scale by the Wine ­Information Council . Its aim: " To teach moderation and sensible wine consumption as part of a healthy lifestyle. In particular, it will aim to familiarise consumers who enjoy wine with the risks of misuse and the benefits of moderation."

Beadles said: "Wine, as with all alcohol, if consumed in moderation can be part of a perfectly healthy lifestyle. We want to work with Comité Vins and with all our European counterparts in ensuring alcohol is treated with respect and enjoyed responsibly. We hope that the Arts de Vivre campaign will help us in this."

The message coming from the WSTA seems to show that the drinks industry is happy to promote moderate drinking and is already doing so.

He said: "The EU Wine Plan is supposed to be a framework in which individual countries can operate and give information on best practice back to a central source. A lot of the work that we are doing in the UK is ahead of where some of the other countries are."

He added: "It's really about educating people about alcohol misuse in any way we can.

"This week, we heard that the Drinkaware Trust has attracted the support of many of the large retailers and there are about 70,000 hits a month on the charity's website, so it looks like the message is going out to the consumer."

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