A version of this article first appeared in Australian GrapeGrowers & Vignerons, February 2009.
The UK drinks industry is waiting to be hit with a mandatory code of practice, targeting irresponsible retail practices, after attempts at self-regulation have insufficiently impressed the government. The plans will form a core strand of the government’s strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm, including binge-drinking and under-age drinking.
The mandatory conditions are not yet known, and consultation with industry on the code is taking place during the first quarter of 2009. Proposals include:
- Banning irresponsible promotions in supermarkets and off licences. ‘Three for the price of two’ promotions have been mentioned in despatches, as have ‘all you can drink for £10’ and ‘women drink for free’ promotions.
- Requiring on-premises to offer a minimum glass size, such as 125ml (which used to be the ‘standard’ measure a generation ago).
- requiring that consumers are able to see unit content of alcohol when they buy it
- ensuring that customers in supermarkets are not required to buy very large amounts of a product to take advantage of price discounts
The pricing and promotion of alcoholic drinks has been under a lot of scrutiny, though minimum pricing of alcohol has moved off the government’s agenda … whilst there is an economic downturn, so the idea is just shelved, not completely ruled out.
Licensing authorities will have new powers to stamp on problems in their areas, allowing specific premises and promotions to be targeted. Proposals include:
- limiting the sale of low-price alcohol if this is linked to local disorder, for example being confiscated from under 18s
- banning promotions such as happy hours, drinking games or organised pub crawls
- limiting the display or advertising of discounted price offers.
It is speculated that consumers who have choice restricted in their local stores may travel to neighbouring towns where such restrictions may not exist.
Promotional sales in supermarkets have been estimated at more than 50% of alcohol sold, though a University of Sheffield study into the effects of alcohol pricing and promotion, published by the Department of Health, found “a total ban on off-trade
discounting is estimated to reduce consumption by -2.8%”. The report also said tighter restrictions affected wine consumption more than other alcoholic beverages.
Gavin Partington, head of communications for The Wine and Spirit Trade Association, who are taking part in the consultation on behalf of drinks industries, said: “co-regulation remains an idea which is being discussed with government – the notion that we, as an industry, agree the content of a code with government which is then enforced in various different ways – by the industry, by local government, by central government.”
The WSTA also point out that existing legislation is not being enforced, for example, in England and Wales in 2006, only 8 people under 18 were taken to court for trying to purchase alcohol and only 11 were reprimanded.
Work already being done is having an effect. Latest figures for the government’s £10m ‘know your limits’ campaign show that 21% of people now know there are 3 units of alcohol in a large wine glass, up from 6%.
In May, a 12-week consultation period for the mandatory code was announced.