Praying for an Indian summer

23 August, 2007

For weeks, OLN's newsdesk has been buzzing with stories about slumps in beer sales, but most of what we've heard has been anecdotal. Now we have the proof in front of us. The hoped-for warmer second half of the summer has not happened and off-trade beer sales were down by almost 16 per cent in the four weeks to July 15, according to Nielsen.

The next set of statistics, due out in August, is unlikely to be much cheerier, judging from the drizzle I can see from the office window.

Lager has been hit much harder than ale, and I wouldn't be surprised if top brewery executives are currently in meetings wondering how they can weather-proof their products against future gloomy summers.

Whether these less-than-encouraging figures impact on full-year sales remains to be seen, but I'm sure I'm not the only one hoping for an Indian summer this year.

It's positive to note the strong sales in wine across the first half of the summer - particularly after the worries in 2006 about the market flattening. While I'm sure the rosť wine boom has helped, I can't help wondering whether mulled wine has been flying off the shelves as shoppers desperately try to warm themselves up.

Sweets leave a sour taste

We've had a couple of letters from Threshers workers over the past few weeks on whether off-licences should sell sweets for, and to, children.

We opened the question up to independent retailers in this issue's Vox Shop (page 3) and had a mixed response.

While no one would deny children's sweets a place in a convenience store or supermarket selling a range of goods, isn't it asking for trouble selling them in a specialist off-licence? There are plenty of more "grown-up" confectionery alternatives.

I'm not having a pop at Threshers - I think the issue is widespread. I would hazard a guess that children who are at home in the off-licence environment are more likely to become teenagers who are comfortable trying to buy alcohol under-age.

The off-trade has made great strides in responsible drinks retailing over the past few years, but this is one issue that needs further debate.

Overreaction is not the answer

The national media has given extensive coverage to comments made by Cheshire chief constable Peter Fahy on drinks shops, binge drinking and violence. Bargain Booze boss Matthew Hughes puts up an excellent defence on page 14. Alcohol has been a hot topic during "silly season" as newspapers scout around for a sniff of a story (something your favourite trade newspaper would never indulge in).

The nationals often forget to balance negative comments with the positives on an industry that is dynamic, creative and makes a significant contribution to the Treasury.

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