Inspector Andrew Mason of Suffolk Police told OLN that retailers who had removed such products on a voluntary basis had seen profits improve after they plugged the gaps with less harmful, lower-strength products that had
higher margins.
Suffolk Police launched the Reducing The Strength scheme in Ipswich last September as a spin-off from a wider campaign against street drinking.
The Home Office has now approached Mason to discuss how the project could be rolled out across the country. He is due to meet Home Office officials and Adrian Lee, the lead on alcohol harm reduction at the Association of Chief Police Officers, next week.
Eighty-one of 130 licensed stores in the town have agreed to remove low-priced, high abv beers and ciders, with the Co-op, Tesco, Sainsbury’s.
Waitrose, Martin McColl, Morrisons and Marks & Spencer all joining. Mason said he expected Asda to sign up soon. Only Iceland of the major high street chains has declined to sign up an existing store, though a new branch in the catchment area is taking part.
Mason moved to allay fears that high abv premium products such as Belgian beers and locally-sourced craft ciders could be impacted.
“Clearly such products are priced in a way that means they are not within the reach of children or vulnerable people,”said Mason. “There is a natural break that any lay person would be able to recognise. It is not a science. There’s a clear difference between a superstrength beer that costs 99p and a Belgian one at £11.
“Waitrose has signed up but is still selling those premium sorts of products that are a very important part of what it does.
He added: “The Co-op signed up and had to withdraw four products, one of which was its own-brand superstrength lager but it was quite happy to do that.”
Mason said he had been “snowed under” with enquiries about the scheme from forces in other parts of the UK.
“The Home Office wants to see how it can roll out on a wider scale what we are doing with local police in a local way.
“There have been concerns about competition law but the advice we have received is that because it’s voluntary it doesn’t contravene competition laws, because a retailer can choose to sell whatever they want.
“There is a lot of negativity about retailers but in Ipswich they have really stepped up to the plate and recognised that they can make a difference to their local community, particularly the independents.
“We had one shop where we had reports relating to street drinking 21 times in two months. Since it signed up we have not had a single call in two months and it has seen an increase in footfall and sales.
“We’ve had other retailers who have seen a sustained profit increase because they have taken a high strength, cheap products away and replaced it with on that is weaker but has a better margin.
“We have seen resistance from some stores but I am confident that by the end of the year we will have 100 businesses taking part.”