Holter on the loose

09 February, 2007

Some shops deserve to lose their licences, but let's see some real partnership

All around the country, drinks retailers are facing the crunch. After years of sabre-rattling from police and Trading Standards, the moment has come when large numbers of shops are having their licences revoked or suspended.

Let's be absolutely clear: it's about time some retailers were expelled from the drinks community. A few, for reasons they will struggle to explain to the†authorities, haven't got a licence of any kind. It's†in everyone's interests that they are drummed out†of business.

But we can't tar everyone with the same brush. In some areas the enforcement activity has been particularly aggressive and some fundamentally decent retailers are being hauled up for making genuine mistakes.

When alcohol gets into children's hands there is an understandable outcry and the knee-jerk response is to come down like a ton of bricks on the local off-licence. That will achieve some local headlines which will give the impression that under-age drinking is being tackled - which I doubt is the true result.

What makes the current action so depressing is that in too many areas, drinks retailers are being regarded as disasters waiting to happen. I'd bet a lot of money that, in areas where police and Trading Standards work in partnership with retailers before they make mistakes, social disorder and under-age drinking is far less of a problem.

Winning was harder than ever

To all those who picked up a prize in this week's Drinks Retailing Awards: you couldn't have picked a tougher year to enter. There was a record field of well over 100 entries and an amazingly high standard in most of the categories.

It's no secret that the past 12 months have been fairly sticky in many product areas - the wine trade in particular is coming to terms with the idea that the market isn't guaranteed to grow each year.

In such circumstances, it seems that retailers work harder than ever and there have been some superb examples of innovation across the multiples and the independents - and, crucially, a real desire to understand consumer behaviour.

There is still a lot of work to be done before everything in the garden is rosy, but the retailers who triumphed on Tuesday have really raised the bar.

Time to support local heroes

It's always a bizarre experience walking into a supermarket or off-licence which seems to specialise in all sorts of beers from hundreds or thousands of miles away, but offers nothing from the brewery just down the road. Beer remains a product with a sense of place and I think all retailers would see the benefit from listing local brands.

It seems that the brewing industry is bending over backwards to make local sourcing easier for retailers and we know the consumer demand is there. The excuses for shunning local beer are running out.

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