Jeremy Beadles: Off-trade is not the enemy

By Matt Eley Matt

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Barack obama Alcoholic beverage Jeremy beadles

Cast your minds back to January 2009. Barack Obama was inaugurated into the White House and the Icelandic banking system had just fallen off a cliff....

Cast your minds back to January 2009. Barack Obama was inaugurated into the White House and the Icelandic banking system had just fallen off a cliff.

Meanwhile, in our own little universe of pubs and alcohol, something seemingly significant was taking place in Downing Street. The leaders of drinks industry trade groups put their differences to one side to jointly lobby on the issue of ever increasing alcohol taxes.

It appeared to make little difference as Alistair Darling once again hiked duty a few months later.

But Jeremy Beadles, who was heavily involved as chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), still rates the event as a significant achievement.

"I was very proud of being part of the first joint submission on duty to the Treasury," he says. "It was the first time we had secured a meeting with the Chancellor."

But asked if he thinks such a meeting is likely to happen again anytime soon he responds with a chuckle and a "no comment".

Duty war

The laughter is because there is currently a duty war raging within the industry. Brewers want tax breaks for beer and hikes for other categories, while Diageo has controversially called for all other alcoholic drinks to be brought in line with the higher rate spirits producers already pay.

Beadles will not be drawn on the stance of his high-profile member - a position that perhaps gives some indication of why he has gained a reputation in the industry as a smart political operator.

He modestly bats away such a suggestion, but he does have firm views on building relationships with politicians.

"You have to recognise that these people have a job to do and have problems to solve," he says. "You might not like the way they're going about solving them so you have to try and find alternatives for them. We also have to focus on issues that are critical."

On duty he "would like some tax freezes please". But what of other critical issues, such as ways of tackling cheap off-trade alcohol?

Surely this is a tricky one for the head of a group that represents producers (including brewers such as Fuller's and St Austell) alongside retail giants Tesco and Sainsbury's.

"I think there's a perception about cheap alcohol and some of it is not real," he starts. "It is still a damn sight cheaper to buy alcohol in most of continental Europe than it is here."

So youngsters pre-loading before hitting the pubs is a myth? According to Beadles, 'pre-loading' is not the issue some would have you believe.

"When you look at the level of pre-loading most people only have one or two drinks before they go out, so they are not blasted," he says.

"There's a small proportion who are, but does that mean we have to regulate the entire industry, the entire population - or should we find a different route?"

On that subject, Beadles is adamant minimum pricing is most definitely not the way to go. As well as, in his view, probably being illegal, it is also "simply about making alcohol too expensive for poor people to buy it".

Plus the big boys such as Tesco have already vowed to stop selling below cost, Beadles adds.

Blame Starbucks

In fact, to his mind, the supermarket and the off-trade generally, which "faces brutal trading conditions as well" is not the natural enemy of the pub. Starbucks, he suggests, might be a better place to look to apportion blame for trading difficulties.

"What's had more impact on where people go during the course of the day in the last 10 years than coffee shops?" says Beadles.

"Look at a business like Wetherspoons, which is making a huge success out of recognising that people want different things at different times of the day.

"Consumers have moved on. They don't go to the pub every lunchtime or after work every night as that is no longer socially acceptable, to a large extent. Pubs need to evolve and change to meet consumer needs as well."

And, encouragingly, he adds that members need the on-trade because it is still the place where they can make the biggest profits.

"The on-trade is hugely important to the wine and spirits sector. That is where we would like to do lots of business because that is where we sell product to make lots of margin," he points out.

Making lots of margin. Now there's something everyone in the trade would welcome. Perhaps there is a chance for unity after all.

Property of the week


£ 60,000 - Leasehold

Busy location on coastal main road Extensively renovated detached public house Five trade areas (100)  Sizeable refurbished 4-5 bedroom accommodation Newly created beer garden (125) Established and popular business...

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more