Su­per­mar­kets defy min­i­mum pric­ing... and cut booze costs

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - by Paul Drury and Jac­inta Tay­lor

SOME of Bri­tain’s lead­ing su­per­mar­kets re­sponded to Scot­land’s new al­co­hol pric­ing laws by reducing the cost of their booze north of the Bor­der.

The move throws into re­verse the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s rad­i­cal plan to im­prove the na­tion’s health by mak­ing al­co­hol more ex­pen­sive.

Last week, we told how Scots were flood­ing south in droves to take ad­van­tage of cheaper booze prices in English stores.

Now, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by The Scot­tish Mail on Sun­day has dis­cov­ered that Sains­bury’s is sell­ing its own-brand wines at a lower price in Scot­land than it is in Eng­land.

Yes­ter­day, Ali­son Dou­glas, chief ex­ec­u­tive at Al­co­hol Fo­cus Scot­land, said ‘It is dis­ap­point­ing to hear that some su­per­mar­kets are re­spond­ing to min­i­mum unit pric­ing by drop­ping the price of cer­tain drinks. Al­though this will have lit­tle ef­fect on the pos­i­tive im­pact of min­i­mum pric­ing, it’s not what we would ex­pect from re­spon­si­ble re­tail­ers.’

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment brought in its law on al­co­hol pric­ing on May 1, mak­ing it il­le­gal to sell drink for any less than 50p per unit.

The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the move is Scot­land’s cancer and death rates caused by drink­ing. Al­co­hol abuse causes 700 hospi­tal ad­mis­sions and 22 deaths ev­ery week.

How­ever, the MoS can dis­close that on the very day the Min­i­mum Unit of Al­co­hol act be­came law, Sains­bury’s was mov­ing swiftly to cut prices.

A dis­par­ity on pric­ing has al­ways ex­isted be­tween su­per­mar­kets’ big stores and small con­ve­nience out­lets. Tra­di­tion­ally, Sains­bury’s says prices are slightly higher in its ‘Lo­cal’ branches, where items such as bot­tles of wine may be 10 per cent dearer.

How­ever, in its im­me­di­ate re­sponse to min­i­mum unit pric­ing, Sains­bury’s ended the dis­par­ity on its own wine range by slash­ing prices in its ‘Lo­cal’ branches in Scot­land.

This had the ef­fect of cut­ting its own-la­bel Pinot Gri­gio from £5 to £4.75. A whole range of other wines also tum­bled in price, to £4.50 for its Soave, £4.50 for its house red, £4.75 for its own-la­bel Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon and £5.10 for its house Shi­raz.

Sains­bury’s stresses that its new prices are within the law in Scot­land, but failed to re­spond when we asked if the com­pany was act­ing within the ‘spirit’ of the new law.

We also asked if this was a mea­sure to pro­tect its mar­ket share. Again, there was no re­sponse.

Nina Fair­flow, the me­dia re­la­tions man­ager for Sains­bury’s, said: ‘The price of prod­ucts can be in­flu­enced by sev­eral fac­tors and can go up as well as down. The price of some of our house wines in our Scot­tish Lo­cal stores has re­cently changed and is now in line with our su­per­mar­ket prices. Our aim is to pro­vide our cus­tomers with the best qual­ity and value.’

Scot­tish Tory pub­lic health spokesman An­nie Wells said: ‘The SNP Gov­ern­ment clearly needs to do more work on this, oth­er­wise it’ll be im­pos­si­ble to eval­u­ate the full im­pact of this pol­icy.’

A Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment spokesman said: ‘The im­pact of min­i­mum unit pric­ing will be mon­i­tored as part of the wide-rang­ing in­de­pen­dent eval­u­a­tion pro­gramme, which in­cludes re­search ex­am­in­ing how al­co­hol is pur­chased and the eco­nomic ef­fect on the in­dus­try.’

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