Price war fears intensify in wake of inquiry giving supermarket alcohol deals the all clear
Trade leaders have warned that the battle against irresponsible supermarket booze deals is far from over, despite the Competition Commission clearing them of any wrongdoing.
The 16-month inquiry into the groceries market is expected to rule out a ban on selling alcohol as a loss-leader. All hopes now rest with the Government's inquiry into alcohol pricing and promotions, which is expected to kick off in October and report by April 2008.
The panel reportedly decided that forcing supermarkets to accept minimum prices in selling alcohol would be "unwieldy and unpopular with consumers".
"We look at what's good or bad for consumers in terms of their pockets rather than their livers," a source told The Observer paper.
Fears are rife that if nothing is done to combat the sale of cheap booze, pubs and clubs may be forced to abandon voluntary agreements on promotions.
"There is a real worry that if nothing is done the tremendous pressure on the on-trade will lead to deep discounting there because the competition from supermarkets is so fierce," said Bar Entertainment & Dance Association executive director Paul Smith.
"And that would benefit no-one. I cannot understand how the off-trade can continue to deny there is a link between cheap deals and binge drinking. You cannot sell alcohol the same way as baked beans - there are wider social implications."
Although the result is a disappointment for the trade, the inquiry has helped intensify the pressure on the supermarkets and brought the fight into the public eye. Evidence given revealed that the big four - Sainsbury's, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons - sold £112.7m of beer, wines and spirits below cost in the World Cup period last year.
Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers chief executive Nick Bish said the result was disappointing, but not unexpected.
He said: "The Competition Commission is not there to make social judgements. But it has brought a lot of information to light and the supermarkets must realise that responsibility extends beyond their front door."