Statistics quoted by Home Office Minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach in a debate last week revealed that a total of more than 220 million litres of alcohol was sold below cost price in 2008 - the latest figures available.
Earlier this month, the Government announced there would be a ban on alcohol sales below the level of duty plus VAT, to come into effect by spring 2014.
Kate Nicholls, strategic affairs director at the Association of Licensed Multiple retailers, said the Government’s admission of the scale of below cost selling and "supermarket irresponsibility" demonstrated the need for swift action "not only to tackle pocket money prices but to impose the same regulation of promotional activity in the off-trade as pubs, clubs and bars currently face".
Nicholls said the problem was further emphasised with the release of the Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People Survey, which shows that a quarter of underage drinkers bought alcohol from a shop, supermarket or off-licence and almost 40% got it from friends or relatives at home, with the majority of these purchases also likely to be from shops and supermarkets.
This compares to 4% of young people who had drunk in on-licensed premises.
“With more than 70% of alcohol now consumed away from the safe, supervised environment of a pub or bar - and the latest research showing two thirds of consumers citing price as the main factor behind that – the time for government action is now," said Nicholls.
"We cannot go on allowing a tide of cheap alcohol to undermine the good work responsible pub and bar operators are doing to deliver the Government’s public health and public order agenda.”