Don't blame us: Asda responds to Dump the Deals

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Related tags: Asda, Alcohol, Supermarket

IT WAS way back in October that we first put the calls out to the big four supermarkets - Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons. We, like The...

IT WAS way back in October that we first put the calls out to the big four supermarkets - Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons.

We, like The Publican'​s readers, wanted answers - answers to how they could justify selling alcohol at below-cost prices, how they accounted for the promotions in their stores which could be fuelling the supposed binge-drinking culture for which pubs are, more often than not, blamed.

The fact that responses are only just beginning to filter through after months of regularly chasing the Big Four's press offices is testament to supermarkets dragging their feet over answering these questions.

But it also points to the building momentum of The Publican​'s Dump the Deals campaign. Dump the Deals is clearly putting pressure in the right places. Last week, Sainsbury's chief executive Justin King replied in writing to a letter sent in January by The Publican editor Caroline Nodder.

A week later, Asda CEO and president Andy Bond has now done the same.

The supermarket also - little over a week after it was rapped by the Portman Group for breaching the Code of Practice on the naming, packaging and promotion of alcohol - finally returned our calls.

Asda alcohol buyer Ged Futter and spokesman Ed Watson talked about everything from loss-leading alcohol prices to measures taken to foster responsible retailing. Bond's letter also covered some of the same controversial subject matter.

They all acknowledged the retailer's role in selling alcohol responsibly, but stopped short of admitting the dangers of selling alcohol as cheaply as Asda actually does.

They attempted with many comments to absolve Asda of any guilt. The supermarket's Retail Link point-of-sale software tracks sales and has identified that alcohol purchases usually form part of a standard weekly shop, according to Watson. Instead, he shifted blame to other parties - customers, independent off-licences and the on-trade.

On "everyday low prices from Asda":

Ed Watson: "Whether it's a tin of beans, a loaf of bread, or a can of beer people expect everyday low prices from Asda. They expect that across beers, wines, spirits as much as across other areas of the store."

Ged Futter: "Nothing is ever sold purely on price. We don't use alcohol as a loss leader, we offer competitive deals to our customers. We try to be a responsible retailer of alcohol at all times.

"If you look at any aisle of groceries, you will find that all prices fluctuate. These promotional tactics used for alcohol are the same as for any other category."

On customers:

Watson: "From a binge-drinking point of view, there's a danger of the UK turning into a nanny state.

"Individuals need to take responsibility for their own actions. We can only do so much. If someone is determined to drink gallons and gallons of beer, they can get that from a pub, they can get that from a supermarket. There is only so much we can do to prevent that."

On high street off-licences:

Watson: "We look at our responsibility a lot more seriously [than

independent off-licences]. There's a lot more riding on it for us than for independent off-licences."

On pubs:

Watson: "We do far more than most to try to combat alcohol abuse, more than the pub trade. Stopping running a happy hour doesn't necessarily stop binge-drinking.

"We are looking every 15 minutes at how individuals are buying alcohol. The make-up around those purchases is with a weekly spend, not bought in isolation, as it is bought in pubs."

What do you think?

We wanted answers. But the trade seems to have been given far more questions by Asda's replies. For ethical reasons, shouldn't the retailing of alcohol be placed in a different bracket to other grocery categories?

Even if there is not legislation covering the price of alcohol, is it acceptable for supermarkets to look at it with the same principles they apply to any of their other stock?

Asda sees the pricing of alcohol as no different to pricing of any other product, according to its spokespeople, who also denied claims of loss-leading - despite unequivocal recent findings by the Competition Commission that 10 supermarkets, including Asda, were guilty of this tactic.

Should pubs be looking on supermarkets' models of combating alcohol abuse as superior examples - as Watson believes they are? If you have read this far, you will probably have plenty of your own replies on these subjects.

Let us know what you think by emailing adamw@thepublican.com or calling 020 7955 3715.

Related topics: Legislation, Beer, Spirits & Cocktails

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