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Richard Siddle: comment April 5, Government splits drinks industry over minimum pricing

Published:  05 April, 2012

The debate around the proposed minimum price of alcohol appears to have split the trade in two.


The debate around the proposed minimum price of alcohol appears to have split the trade in two.

Whether we think it is likely to become law or merely a political stunt by the Prime Minister to butter up the health lobby and distract us from tales of economic woe and lukewarm pasties is another issue. But it has succeeded in doing two things.

On a public agenda it has softened the average drinker up to the idea of further legislation and higher prices for alcohol. It has also played well, as expected, with the national columnists and opinion writers who although some find the idea of more government intervention uncomfortable, struggle to defend the drinking culture in the UK.

Closer to home the government has cannily driven an even wider wedge between the beer and pub lobby on the one side and the wine trade on the other.

The former sees this as a chance to level the playing field between on and off-trade prices, a view echoed by many independent wine merchants; the other questions not only the legality of minimum pricing but the economics of it and whether it will have any effect on overall declining drinking levels and its adverse effect on poorer members of society.

Minimum pricing is also winning plaudits from the supplier base that argue it will raise the lowest common denominator around pricing within supermarkets. The starting price for wine tenders, some argue, would be nearer a level where more margin could be passed down the supply chain.

Our own poll this week demonstrates how contentious this issue is with 48% against minimum pricing, 39% for and 13% not sure.

We should perhaps be collectively more worried about the government's proposed ban on multi-buy deals which has been law in Scotland since last October. We reveal exclusive figures from Nielsen this week in Harpers that show wine sales have suffered far more than other drinks categories following the ban.

But whichever side of the fence you sit the government has succeeded in deflecting the issue of alcohol pricing away from Whitehall and back on to the drinks industry.