Supermarkets bid to circumvent ‘booze ban’

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by a Newsnet reporter

Supermarket chains such as Tesco are using online customer purchasing to try and get around new Scottish Government legislation banning discounted promotions on alcohol.

The Alcohol Bill bans “irresponsible” drinks promotions, restricting alcohol advertising around sales outlets and comes into force today – ending two-for-the-price-of one offers and group bottle discounts on wine.

However, in what appeared an attempt at circumventing the ban, Tesco emailed customers informing them wine discounts are still available as cases will be dispatched from England.  Groceries bought online from Tesco are distributed from the customer’s nearest store, but Tesco Wine Club’s distribution centre is in Daventry, in England.  Online alcohol bought from England and transported across the border into Scotland is not affected by the new laws.

The Tesco email said: ”Great news! All orders placed at TescoWine by the case will still qualify for these discounts when applicable as your wine is dispatched to you from our distribution centre in Daventry, England.”  

Tesco customers shopping online will continue to get the same deals such as 25 per cent off six bottles of wine bought together.

Other retailers are removing the quantity discounts and advertising and instead selling the same bottles of alcohol at the combined discount price without the need to group buy (e.g. bottles sold at three for £10 might be reduced from £4.50 to £3.33 each when sold individually).

Majestic Wine say individual bottles in Scotland will cost the same as package deals in England and Wales.

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “For too long, Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol has gone unaddressed.  The difference between alcohol consumption in Scotland and England and Wales is now at its highest rate for 17 years.  This is a situation that must be tackled head-on.”

Scottish adults consume 23 per cent more alcohol than those in England and Wales, and the impact of excessive drinking on the NHS, crime and businesses costs an estimated £3.56 billion a year.

Alcohol Focus Scotland’s reaction was highly critical of the drinks industry.  Jennifer Curran, head of policy, said: “Supermarkets may well try to get round the new laws by reducing the price of individual bottles of alcohol, and that is why we need to see minimum unit pricing introduced.  This move today by Tesco, which encourages the bulk-buying of alcohol, flies in the face of their claims to be a responsible retailer.”

Tesco insists it is acting in the best interests of Scottish consumers by directing their attention to its wine club’s offers.

Other retailers are following suit:

This weekend, Sainsbury’s is offering new cut-price deals with half price selected wines and beers and spirits reduced – just as the new alcohol legislation kicks in.

A spokeswoman for Sainsbury’s said: “We will continue to offer great deals to our customers, so they can still get great value as part of their shop with us.”

A Majestic Wines spokeswoman said: “If wine is on multi-buy discount in England, Scottish customers will be able to get that bottle at the multi-buy price.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Internet sales represent only a very small proportion of the alcohol sold in Scotland, but it is an area that we watch closely to see if further action is necessary.”