Holter on the loose
Published:  05 October, 2007

Pub trade body should do its homework before lashing out at drinks retailers

The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, a trade body for pub operators, has estimated that supermarkets sold 5.4 million units of alcohol below cost at the last World Cup, taking a £36 million hit in the process.

"The figures confirm what we have long argued," squeals the editorial in the ALMR's latest bulletin. "That cheap alcohol readily available from the supermarkets, and not changes in licensing hours, are behind recent increases in consumption."

Three questions. First, who says alcohol consumption has increased? Second, why is this automatically assumed to be a bad thing? Third, what leap of imagination has been taken to obtain "proof" that supermarket discounting is behind it?

The ALMR's response to this perceived social evil is to write to government ministers urging them not only to ban below-cost sales of alcohol, but to stop supermarkets selling individual units of beer and other ready-to-consume products.

What a great idea: put an end to binge drinking by forcing consumers to buy multipacks of beer.

Behind the smoke screen

How many times this week have you refused to sell tobacco to a 16 or 17-year-old, even though you did so quite legally as recently as the weekend?

How many times have you tried to explain to a bemused customer that you want to see their ID before you can part company with a pouch of Golden Virginia?

I only hope you encountered nothing worse than confusion. Other possibilities include verbal and/or physical abuse, and a hefty fine for accidentally selling to someone aged under 18.

The media this week has been full of snarled warnings that retailers will be watched like hawks lest they allow tobacco to be bought by 16 and 17-year-olds. Shame there wasn't similar publicity about the change in the law

so that teenagers could take their share of the responsibility instead of the government putting all the pressure on shop workers.

Supermarket nearly gets there

Asda's idea of letting customers try wine in 25cl sizes, and redeeming the price of the mini bottle when they buy the regular 75cl size, is inspired.

The trade has long been tormented with the problem of how best to persuade consumers that a little extra spending on wine is justified. Asda is not in a position to hand-sell its finer wines, but giving consumers the opportunity to sample them effectively for nothing seems like an intelligent alternative for a supermarket to pursue.

Asda's Extra Special range is also worth applauding. Though it doesn't veer into the upper reaches of consumer expectation, it does offer solid, characterful wines at affordable prices.

With so much progress to report, it was slightly weird to see wines below £3 at the recent tasting. But I suppose old habits die hard - for retailers and their customers.

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