Now in their third year, OLN and the Morning Advertiser's Responsible Drinks Retailing Awards have seen retailers raise the bar even higher to reach new standards of social responsibility.
There were more off-trade entries than ever before this year, and the excellence of all those who entered made it much harder to judge.
The fact that there was so little to choose between entries shows that the ≠government's drive towards commonality is taking effect - Challenge 21, for example, is used across the board - and what would have been extraordinary three years ago has become standard this year.
But three entrants did manage to stand out even more than their competitors, to wow the judges with real innovation, community feeling and a long-term attitude towards responsible retailing.
On this page we outline the achievements that make them special.
Off-trade chain winner: David Sands
Responsible retailing in Scotland is even more of a challenge than it is in England and Wales. The authorities north of the border have taken the lead in cracking down harder and harder on binge drinking and its causes, and retailers look set to bear the brunt of restrictive new legislation which, among other things, will outlaw price promotions and cross-merchandising from 2009.
Kinross-based family-run chain David†Sands, which operates as part of Nisa-Today's, has faced up to that challenge with strict policies and thorough staff training designed to avoid under-age sales - and to prove the company's due diligence if any member of staff should slip up.
Judges were particularly impressed by David Sands' in-house test purchasing scheme. The chain employs 18 to 20-year-old "mystery shoppers" to test whether staff are challenging under-21s for ID. Anyone who fails to do so gets an official warning and immediate refresher training, while those who do ask for proof of age are given a £50 voucher as a reward. The scheme has been so successful that Fife Constabulary asked the company to help them set up a pilot test purchasing scheme for Scotland.
David Sands is also taking action against adults buying drink for youngsters. As part of the work with Fife Constabulary two of the chain's stores uniquely marked all their alcohol - so that if the products were found in youngsters' hands they could be traced back to the adult who bought them.
The chain also routinely hands CCTV footage and still pictures to the police if†it spots any proxy buying or if customers become abusive when they are refused a sale.
The company says: "As responsible traders with a clear focus on preserving traditional family values, it is the company policy to engage with our partners in the local authorities and police in an effort to improve the quality of life in the communities in which we see ourselves as 'responsible neighbours'."
Highly commended: Thresher Group
The Thresher Group keeps pushing responsible retailing forward, and 2007 has been no exception.
After finding that staff are reluctant to ask for ID if they feel threatened, the company has revised its training programme and given staff badges which read: ID required.
Refusals and challenges when ID has been produced are monitored through EPOS, and if customers don't have ID staff can invite them to apply for a Pass card for half price. Once the card is approved a £5 bonus is sent to the store which handed out the application form.
Thresher uses an external test purchasing company to make sure staff are challenging customers under 21. Those who get it right are given a £20 bonus, while getting it wrong is a disciplinary offence and has led to dismissals. "We are very proud of the fact that to date we have paid out over £10,000 of staff 'get it right' bonuses," the company says.
Thresher Group is also moving towards having two personal licence holders for each shop - by August 2007 60 per cent of the estate already had two personal licence holders. It also helped Trading Standards Partnership South West update its under-age sales video, offering facilities for filming and giving £7,000 to the project.
Off-trade independent winner: Frankmarsh Stores
The independent community shop
Frankmarsh Stores is based in a housing estate in Barnstaple, Devon , where lots of youngsters aged 12-17 are keen to get their hands on alcohol.
Owner Lesley Brown (pictured) became interested in licensing issues when she took over the shop in 2000, and has represented off-licences on a local licensing forum, as well as holding various offices in Barnstaple Licensing Association and winning an award for responsible retailing from the British Institute of Innkeeping.
law changed, Brown and her husband Bill realised they needed to do more to protect staff from customers becoming abusive when refused a sale. The y drew up a restricted sales policy guide
then organised a No ID, No Sale Day
when a spokesman from Citizencard
came to the shop to answer
customer queries and hand
out proof-of-age application forms. The Browns gave out 500 restricted sales guides as well as specially made balloons and key fobs, and the day was so successful they
with speakers from Camelot's Operation Child and the local fair trade organisation.
Lesley says: "Just when you think you have got the message across to this year's youngsters the next group comes along, so it is always going to be an issue for personnel selling alcohol, but by training and talking to customers and staff about the risks, both from prosecution and alcohol-related social issues, you can minimise the risks of harm to the young people in your area and to your business."