Adam Withrington: Divide and Conquer

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Related tags: Alcohol concern, Beer, Jdw

Amongst the furore surrounding the Wetherspoons (JDW) 99p pint story from last week, one thing has gone unmentioned. Why is Alcohol Concern making...

Amongst the furore surrounding the Wetherspoons (JDW) 99p pint story from last week, one thing has gone unmentioned. Why is Alcohol Concern making such a fuss about it?

Following the revelation that JDW was selling pints of Greene King IPA for 99p, Alcohol Concern chief executive Don Shenker, said:

"In the economic climate, businesses need to be competitive. However, alcohol is not an ordinary commodity like bread or milk. Alcohol causes harm to the nation's health and economy, and there appears to be a strong link between cheap alcohol and the high levels of binge drinking in the UK."

Now perhaps you wouldn't expect anything less than that response. But there is just a whiff of the foul stench of hypocrisy here. If a retailer selling a pint of ale for 99p is such a crime, then why haven't Alcohol Concern been yelling about this for a lot longer?

Equivalent measures of bottled ale are sold in supermarkets for a pound almost anywhere you care to mention. Perhaps for a few pence more. So where were or are the newspaper stories and the quotes of indignation from Don Shenker or his predecessor Srabani Sen?

Why is it that deals in pubs, where prices are so much higher on average, are headline news but deals in supermarkets struggle to make the same impact? (Never mind the fact that the pub environment is a safer one to drink in than the unregulated off-trade.)

It is because pressure groups like Alcohol Concern and the Daily Mail (yes I'm calling the Daily Mail a pressure group - wanna fight about it?) don't treat the alcohol industry with an even hand.

If Alcohol Concern was tackling alcohol even-handedly then it would be focusing on the fact that while selling a pint of cask beer for 99p is pushing the envelope somewhat, that is actually double the amount that supermarkets have been selling certain brands of lager for over the last two years. The Publican's Dump the Deals campaign in 2007 uncovered major off-trade retailers selling cans of lager for as little as 40p a pop.

Perhaps these pressure groups are employing that age old tactical technique of divide and conquer. If they took on all alcohol with equal ferocity they would struggle to have the same impact. After all everyone goes to supermarkets. Not everyone goes to pubs. So target the weak link. Divide and conquer…

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