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alcohol health alliance uk

Cheap supermarket booze is damaging North East pubs

Posted 08/10/10

Pubs across the north east are calling for Government action on cheap supermarket alcohol, which they say is damaging business.

More than half of the region’s landlords say that business has dropped off over the last year and a third expect the decline to continue, according to research published today (Friday, October 8).

The sale of alcohol at pocket money prices by the region’s supermarkets has been identified as a key reason for this trend – with almost nine in ten landlords admitting that supermarket price promotions have damaged trade.

As a result, more than 80% of north east publicans support the introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol, which would increase the price of cheap, strong alcohol and close the price gap between pubs and supermarkets.

The research, which was commissioned by Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, surveyed 244 of the region’s landlords. It reveals that:

• 56% of those surveyed experienced a decline in business last year
• two in five predict that this decline will continue over the next 12 months
• more than half of publicans said they were forced to offer drinks promotions to counteract supermarket price cuts
• a third put the introduction of a minimum price per unit in the top three factors that could make the biggest impact on boosting their profits
• seven in ten would welcome legislation to prevent supermarkets from selling alcohol at pocket money prices
• almost two thirds support a return to fixed closing times.

Ian Taylor, operations and marketing manager at the Head of Steam Ltd – which owns pubs in Newcastle and Durham, said: “Although we don’t support any discounted price promotions designed to lure customers to drink too much, I understand to a degree what other publicans are saying when they feel driven to introduce cheap alcohol offers to counteract pressure from supermarkets selling alcohol at ridiculously low prices.

“We have definitely noticed a lull in trade during the early evening, which has meant we have to operate later, which puts pressure on staff and budgets. It doesn’t take a genius to link this to the increase in pre-loading, or people getting drunk on cheap supermarket alcohol before they hit the pubs and clubs.”

Balance’s research shows that more than seven in ten publicans say customers arrive at their premises later after drinking at home.

Ian added: “How can it be that alcohol is available from supermarkets at 1990’s prices, when the prices of other goods, such as a loaf of bread have risen significantly? If I was selling alcohol at prices from two decades ago, I’m pretty certain the licensing authorities would, quite rightly, have something to say about that. How come supermarkets aren’t governed in the same way? It’s clear Government need to do something to address the issue of cheap supermarket alcohol and to me, banning the sale of alcohol below cost price won’t be enough.”

The introduction of a minimum price has already been backed in the North East by industry body the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII), which has more than 400 members in the region.
Richard Slade, Regional Chair of the BII and owner of Battlesteads Hotel in Hexham, said: “We can’t and won’t compete with the prices being offered by supermarkets. Hundreds of pubs have closed in the North East recently and we feel that the widespread availability of cheap alcohol at supermarkets is a major factor.

“We really have had enough – it’s time to tackle the problems caused by cheap alcohol – it’s time to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol, which will enable us to compete and end this culture of pre-loading.”

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “It’s no surprise that alcohol sold at pocket money prices is having a major impact on the livelihoods of those working in the region’s pubtrade.

“The introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol would level the playing field and enable pubs to compete. It would have an impact on the pre-loading trend and subsequently reduce the problems pre-loaders are causing themselves and society. Importantly it would return life to the British community pub at a time when Government is focussed on encouraging communities to take on greater responsibilities.

“A minimum price needs to be introduced as part of a range of measures, including continued education and stricter legislation, to tackle the health and crime and disorder problems caused by alcohol misuse in the region.”