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Analysis: trade must shout about its responsible actions

Published:  15 August, 2011

Now, more than ever, the trade needs to shout about what it's already doing to promote the responsible sale and promotion of alcohol.

Now, more than ever, the trade needs to shout about what it's already doing to promote the responsible sale and promotion of alcohol.

In case you were in any doubt about how the public and the mainstream media feel about alcohol, you need only have tuned into Panorama's Dying for a Drink programme last week.

An episode guaranteed to put all but the most determined off the booze, it championed the health sector, was filmed inside an A&E in Liverpool where one reformed drinker admitted drinking 84 units per day, and repeatedly showed a clip of David Cameron denouncing a 2-litre bottle of cider priced £1.99. The pricing and availability message was hammered home, but the fact that tinkering with pricing would contravene EU regulations barely got a mention.

But what about drinks companies? The WSTA was given a very brief spot and communications manager Gavin Partington did his best to put across the trade's case, but viewers would still have been in no doubt as to who the "bad guys" were.

It criticised the government for being overly influenced by big drinks firms, but it did not join the dots. No one in the trade is happy to see images of people abusing alcohol, nor the strains this puts on the beleaguered NHS. But most are doing their best to combat these problems, which is why they are engaging with government in the first place.

This sort of programme underscores how vital it is for the trade to engage with the Responsibility Deal, to show that we recognise we have a role to play and care passionately about how alcohol is consumed in the UK.

Let's try and redress the balance. Partington neatly sums it up: "The drinks industry has a duty to help tackle alcohol misuse and is entitled to participate in discussions alongside other stakeholders.

"Policymakers recognise businesses can help implement policy faster and more effectively than might be achieved through regulation or legislation, a good example being the voluntary agreement to carry health messages on products. The fact some health groups want to walk away from discussions shouldn't prevent us from taking part."

Time to get serious
Steve Barton, director of Brand Phoenix, owner of the lower-alcohol First Cape Café Collection, says: "We've all signed up to the deal, but not put anything visible on the supply and retail side that shows government we're taking this seriously."

He says Brand Phoenix is calling for lighter styles to have as much prominence in stores as full-strength wines. "There needs to be a lighter alternative on show at the front of store," he says.

He believes First Cape's Café Collection is ideally placed to do this, given "it's such a familiar brand". "Until we start doing something visible on the shop floor, we won't be taken seriously."

He is also planning to host an alcohol debate in October, to talk about how to action Responsibility Deal commitments. Barton believes right now the trade's main problem is that it's not unified, "there are too many different theories", he says. He also thinks it's vital to liaise with the WSTA to make sure plans on product development fit with government guidelines.