Sainsbury’s, Wal-mart-owned Asda and John Lewis-owned Waitrose have rejected government proposals for a minimum price per unit of alcohol. The three retailers argued that the measure would penalise responsible drinkers on low incomes and said education was a better way to tackle problem drinking. The stores also defended bulk discounts for alcohol, saying customers tended to stock up on beer and wine when an offer was on and then not buy any more for some time.
Representatives of the supermarkets appeared before the Commons Health Select Committee as part of an inquiry into alcohol problems in England. The MPs have already heard evidence based on Sheffield University research that setting a minimum price of GBP0.50 (USD0.82) per unit of alcohol would save 3,400 deaths a year. The Government’s chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, called in March for the measure to be introduced.
However, Paul Kelly, Asda’s Corporate Director, told the committee that minimum pricing was a “very blunt tool”. He said: “You’re taxing responsible, hard-working families to address the issues of a small part of the population.” He added: “It is a stealth tax. It doesn’t find its way into the Treasury but into the pockets of the drinks industry.”
Nick Grant, Head of Legal Services at Sainsbury’s, said: “We find it an untargeted measure that will at the moment be penalising people on quite low or fixed incomes at a time of economic hardship.” He said the Sainsbury’s own-brand “Basics” range of cheap alcohol would probably disappear if minimum pricing was introduced.
Giles Fisher, Head of Alcohol Buying for Waitrose, suggested there was a wider cultural problem with drinking in the UK. He pointed out that Sweden had high alcohol duties and high rates of alcohol abuse, while Spain had low duties and low rates of abuse. Fisher said: “We’re not calling for a minimum price because I don’t think that’s the sole answer to the problem. The better solution is education, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”