Supermarkets defy minimum pricing... and cut booze costs
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.’