S&N slams supermarkets over cheap beer

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Alcoholic drinks, Alcoholic beverage, Britain

UK supermarkets are failing to promote responsible drinking by
selling too much cheap alcohol, the brewer Scottish & Newcastle
has told a Competition Commission investigation.

The criticism from Scottish & Newcastle (S&N), Britain's largest brewer, will be used as evidence in the Competition Commission's probe of the UK grocery market.

"We view with concern, the willingness of the major multiples to invest in relatively cheap beer and cider prices, to drive 'footfall' within this sector,"​ S&N said.

The group claimed its Foster's lager brand was three times more expensive in bars compared to supermarkets.

The alcoholic drinks industry has faced fierce criticism from government officials, doctors and campaign groups over the last couple of years over fears that Britain's binge-drinking culture was getting out of control.

The industry has responded by launching several initiatives to promote responsible drinking, such as curbing cheap drinks offers in pubs and bars.

S&N warned supermarket tactics could ruin this work because they were "not consistent with the promotion of responsible drinking. For example, there is now firm anecdotal evidence that drinkers are consuming cheap alcohol at home prior to crossing over into the on-trade for a night out"​.

A big problem, according to S&N, was that the law did not prevent supermarkets from selling alcohol 'below cost'.

Selling food and drink below the cost of production is not illegal in Britain, unlike in several other European countries, allowing supermarkets to undercut rivals in one product and subsidise losses from other sales.

Criticism of supermarket drinks prices has risen recently as retailers have grabbed more share of the alcoholic drinks market. Around 40 per cent of Britain's beer is now bought from supermarkets, according to the British Beer and Pub Association.

A member of Scotland's parliament last week filed a motion asking the house to condemn supermarket pricing policy for alcohol.

Supermarkets, however, fought back against claims they were acting irresponsibly.

A spokesperson for Sainsbury's, Britain's third largest supermarket, said the firm was playing an active part in the new 'Challenge 21' campaign, which advises retailers and bars to ask people who do not look 21 for identification. Sainsbury's said it had put up posters and signs around its stores.

And Tesco, Britain's largest supermarket, said in a statement: "We have very strict procedures for dealing with the sale of alcohol and our research shows that most of the alcohol purchased by our customers is bought as part of the weekly family shop and consumed at home. We adopt a responsible approach to the promotion of alcohol."

Britain's public health minister Caroline Flint, concerned at Britain's drinking habit, said earlier this year the government would consider placing cigarette packet-style health warnings on alcoholic drinks.

Her comments came as the government considered its stance on European Commission plans to introduce new alcohol labelling rules across the EU.

Related topics: Markets, Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cider

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