07 March, 2008

Don't blame the off-trade - blame the boozy bars

I have read and reread the reports of government attempts to tar the off-trade with the brush of responsibility for binge drinking.

Worst of all was a recent quote from some ivory-tower wonk saying that it would be better if the trade "stopped selling so much alcohol to children".

We know, of course, that the government lives on a different planet from the rest of us and that any opportunity to increase taxes is welcomed by them, especially if it can carry a spurious public interest cachet. And, yes, I am sure that there

are retailers who sell to under-age people, as you report it often enough in your columns.

But the real binge-drinking problem is, I submit, not the responsibility of the minority of criminal and/or stupid drinks retailers who sell illegally.

No, j'accuse the on-trade!

Not the local pub with a decent pint, the occasional halfway drinkable bottle of wine to go with the steak and kidney pudding, and maybe even a reasonable range of malt whisky. I'm talking about the industrial drinking factories that pollute our high streets. These are not staffed by friendly landlords and landladies keeping a knowledgeable eye on the locals and the regulars. These are noisy, loud-music booze machines selling things called splits and slots and yetz and shotz - high alcohol products with no aesthetic value whatsoever.

The brief is to pack the place with young, inexperienced drinkers and get them as drunk as possible as quickly as possible so that they stay there all evening and spend all their money there. Then at chucking-out time they can be decanted onto the street, the doors bolted, and the police can take care of the consequences. There's a street near me where they have a dozen of these places within the space of half a mile, and the whole town centre is a no-go area after 11pm on a Friday and a Saturday.

I don't doubt that the rest of us will pay for this genuinely irresponsible drinks retailing, and I don't expect for a moment that the government will take the slightest notice. Normal people, as always, will bear the reponsibility and the cost for the actions of a few, and the Treasury will rub its hands as the coffers are refilled while the Exchequer weeps crocodile tears and sends a few more mature-looking teenagers out to their local off-licence for yet another lucrative sting.

Let's have a campaign for real pubs, and drive these drug-pushers out of town, say I!

John Radford


Thresher stores in poor repair

With regard to your front page news of Feb 22 (Thresher to sell 200 leases). This affects me as I manage one of those stores. Unfortunately, Thresher is going to find it hard to sell the leases as the state of repair in some stores is horrendous.

My store has a flat above the shop and lead has been stolen from the roof. Thresher paid for "repairs" to be done.

I think John Wayne and Billy the Kid

were employed because now holes have appeared everywhere.

Whenever it rains, water pours in to the flat and then into the shop and storeroom - up to 15 buckets are used every time. Thankfully, London has had a relatively dry winter.

A prospective purchaser viewed the premises last week but left in a hurry when he saw the state of disrepair. As no money is being spent on repairs, how can Thresher hope to sell these leases - nobody wants to buy rundown properties.

It is typical Thresher trying to do everything on the cheap!

Yours faithfully

Thresher manager

(name and address supplied)

Reasons to be cheerful

How pleased I was to open your last issue and read the Brands Report (Feb 22).

I usually brace myself for the worst, expecting to see falling sales in most categories and a flat market. But instead I read there are signs of a positive shift in the UK off-trade. Figures show alcohol sales are growing ahead of inflation, with most of the leading brands in growth.

Yes, we might be looking at a harsh duty hike this year, but I truly believe retailers have reason to be optimistic.

George Cecil


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