Tesco price call is a 'PR stunt'

07 March, 2008

Independents welcome prospect of an end to supermarkets' loss-leading

Independent drinks shops have lent their support to idea of government-set minimum pricing - but comments by supermarkets including Tesco on the issue have been labelled a PR stunt.

Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Tesco's executive director for corporate and legal affairs, had said the grocer was willing to begin discussions on minimum pricing, but only if the government moved towards changing the law.

Neville-Rolfe said: "The only safe solution is for the government to initiate and lead these discussions and to bring forward legislative proposals which Tesco and others in our industry can support.

"Such proposals would have to apply to all retailers of alcohol, otherwise they would be ineffective, as those looking for cheap alcohol would simply shop with lower-priced operators not covered by the legislation, undermining our business and achieving nothing.

"If ministers act we pledge our support in helping to develop proposals and make the legislation work."

But independent drinks shops said supermarkets were the chief culprits in encouraging binge-drinking by selling alcohol as a loss leader.

David Brown, manager of Rock Bottom in Cowbridge, Vale of Glamorgan, said: "It was a PR stunt to say 'look at us, we are taking a high stand on this'. They are the ones that are doing it.

"It's the big boys who can afford to make a loss. It's wrong to sell anything below cost, and with alcohol it's particularly morally wrong. That's what tempts people into binge drinking. There's not a single line in this shop that doesn't make a profit."

Louise Smith, of the Jug & Bottle in Bubwith, East Yorkshire, said: "They're trying to look the good guys. They are dragging the whole industry down, which tarnishes us all with a broad brush."

Smith said minimum pricing "could help the problem of binge-drinking if people have got to spend more".

Setting minimum pricing across the off-trade would "create a fair playing field", according to Mark Johnson, owner of Celebrations in Stockport.

Johnson said the multiples had created a "smoke screen to cover their own back" by calling for minimum pricing.

He added: "Why have they got to speak to the government when they can just do it in-house?"

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