UK supermarkets pledge support for crackdown on underage alcohol sales

By Leah Vyse

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Retailing

The UK's leading supermarkets are to create stricter guidelines for
employees selling alcohol in the run up to a government crackdown
on underage drinking.

As the leading retailers of alcohol in the UK, Britain's six major supermarkets have joined forces with the Government to tackle the issue of underage drinking.

The retailers appear keen to promote their socially responsible attitude and improve their public image, following countless attacks in the British press over their growing power and threat to the British High Street.

This comes on the eve of a rise in existing UK fines and penalties for selling alcohol to under-18s on 24 November.

However with the maximum penalty being set at a mere £5,000 (€7,000) for selling alcohol to children, the retailers' initiative is being seen as a way of improving their image rather than a reaction to the higher fines.

Retail analyst at Planet Retail, Bryan Roberts, told FoodandDrinkEurope.com"Retailers are trying to be seen to do the right thing. Fines are less of an issue for them, they are a minor slap on the wrist."

"This is definitely a PR issue for retailers given the current media climate. They are probably viewed in a less positive light by the public, especially Tesco."

"As they are seen less favourably they have to do everything they can."

A report out last month showed that teenagers in Northern Ireland start drinking alcohol from as young as 11, with nearly a third of those 11 to 16-year olds surveyed saying they had purchased alcohol themselves at some time.

The Health Promotion Agency report also said that there is a trend towards more risky patterns of drinking among young people over the last 10 years and a significant relationship between drinking behaviour and other risk behaviours, such as smoking experimentation, drug and solvent experimentation and sexual behaviour.

As the leading retailers of alcohol in the UK, Britain's supermarkets are under pressure to help fight the problem.

Last week representatives from the six leading supermarkets met with Government ministers and trade association representatives from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) to discuss how to combat underage drinking.

The Government and the retailers, who hope to create stricter guidelines for alcohol sales, signed up to a coordinated approach, agreeing to meet in the near future to promote sensible drinking and responsible retailing in the license trade.

A BRC spokesperson admitted that the combination of being seen to do the right thing and the threat of fines might have prompted the retailers to act.

The Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, said: "Retailers have unrivalled access to consumers and provide an ideal opportunity to get the message out about preventing underage sales."

Culture secretary Tessa Jowell added: "The supermarkets can be part of the solution or part of the problem - but I was heartened by the clear willingness to recognise their responsibilities."

The BRC has already developed two voluntary initiatives to tackle the problem in the past. The Proof of Age Standard Scheme (PASS), launched in 2003, is now nationally recognized, with more than a million PASS cards in circulation, according to the organisation. "We have been slowly building the scheme over the past couple of years but we are awaiting Government funding which takes time,"​ said a BRC spokeswoman.Another scheme, 'Challenge-21', asks a retailer to challenge any individual buying alcohol, which they believe may be under 21, to prove their age.

It was revealed at last weeks meeting that members of the BRC are forming an Alcohol Retailing Standards Group, which will include senior representatives from all the major retailing companies and trade associations in the UK.

The group met yesterday to discuss further ways retailers can tackle the problem of underage sales that will work alongside the amendments to The Licensing Act 2003 and they are set to announce proposals over the next few weeks.

Related topics: Markets

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