Already an issue that the pubs are battling against, constantly having the local landlords complaining about this in Camden
Scotland intervention - a step too far?
12 September, 2007
The Scottish Justice Minister is to take action in the off-trade
News that Scotland is to clampdown on alcohol drinks promotions was greeted with a cheer from licensees across the country.
Finally someone is taking action against the supermarkets and off-licences, which are selling cut-price alcohol, a practice many believe is encouraging people to binge-drink.
Hopes were being raised that the action in Scotland could find itself permeating across the whole country, with the off-trade facing tough new regulations.
But it also raises another more important and concerning issue. Should we really be cheering government intervention of any kind in the drinks industry?
Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny McAskill made it clear that he wants action to end the fact that alcohol is knocked back as quickly and cheaply as possible. He believes taking action will stem domestic violence, random assaults and loutish behaviour. He told delegates at the Alcohol Focus Scotland Licensing Conference in Aviemore recently that “doing nothing is not an option”.
McAskill believes that the new Scottish Licensing Act will have a key role in tackling alcohol-related disorder and, in particular, in targeting underage drinkers.
The intention is to take on the culture of drinking which is causing many of the problems.
“We are not prohibitionist, and we are proud of our whiskies and beers. But we need to tackle the booze culture,” he explained.
“The positioning of alcohol is not about making it easier for the shopper. It’s about tempting the shopper to buy, and to buy more.
“Alcohol is a drug. A legal one, and one to be enjoyed. But it must be sold as such, and not as just another commodity.”
The proposed reforms
Under the proposals, supermarkets and convenience stores will be required to have a dedicated area for the display of alcohol to help start to shift attitudes.
McAskill not only stated action would be taken against the placement of alcohol but in the way it is priced and promoted. In particular, he is concerned about ‘front-loading’ – where people consume large amounts of alcohol at home before they head out to the pub.
“Is it any wonder that people frontload when a pint at home can cost 43p compared to the £2.50 a pint when they get to the pub?” he asked.
The move in Scotland has been welcomed by many in the trade. Tony Payne, chief executive of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers’ Associations, believes that more action should be taken and is keen that the rest of the UK to follow Scotland’s lead.
He said: “The way the off-trade has been behaving it has been forced to take action. The supermarket situation has gotten out of hand.
“I think supermarkets should sell alcohol in areas separately within
the store. The supermarkets’ national advertising of alcohol is a rat race which encourages people to overstock.
“Alcohol should be stored in one area of the store and not on lots of aisles. Pubs have to carry out responsible retailing, and so should the supermarkets.”
Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), agrees – although he thinks that there should be a distinction made between convenience stories, off-licences and supermarkets. The SLTA wants larger premises such as supermarkets to be targeted more heavily.
The next target?
While publicans cheered the news that this will end the irresponsible promotions, McAskill has made it clear his next target is the price of alcohol.
As well as opening up a huge debate and a raft of legal pitfalls, including breaking competition law – what it does do is kick-start intervention into the drinks trade.
He said: “I won’t pretend that taking tough action on pricing will be easy, but here is a wealth of evidence and opinion that says that pricing and availability are the keys to unlocking the barriers that are in the way of culture change.”
So should we be encouraging government intervention into the drinks trade at any level?
Mark Hastings, communications director of the British Beer & Pub Association, has welcomed the fact that supermarkets have been part of the debate though he is cautious about the government getting involved further.
“There are clear dangers in what the minister says in the Scottish Executive’s intent to intervene in the pricing of alcohol and eradicate all promotions,” he said.
“Let’s not pretend that what is proposed will not have a wide-ranging impact on the whole of the sector.”
More intervention, he argues, will mean less flexibility for operators and for the market as a whole.
It also looks like hopes that the Competition Commission may intervene and make some rulings on alcohol pricing could be dashed.
Reports claim that the 16-month inquiry into the groceries market, led by commission chairman Peter Freeman, will rule out a ban when it publishes a report into claims that supermarkets’ pricing decisions are putting smaller shops out of business.
If we greet this intervention as good news where will it end? For a start, no more simple pie and a pint promotions in pubs as the promotion of food and alcohol together would be banned under the Scottish proposals.
The issue of supermarket alcohol pricing is one that provokes outrage from the pub trade and licensees, and it is one that is going to continue to run and run.
We will have to wait and see what impact the Scottish regulations have and whether or not intervention is a blessing or a curse.
What the Scottish Executive is proposing
The Scottish government wants to see a ban on deals such as:
Three for the price of two
£10 cases of beer being sold at £20 for three
12 bottles of wine for the price of 10
24 cans will need to cost the same as buying 24 individual cans
Cross merchandising, such as
• Beer beside barbeque charcoal
• Wine in the pizza counter
• Gin and tonic in the chiller cabinet alongside lunchtime sandwiches