Mixed reception for minimum unit price plans

23 March, 2012

There has been a mixed drinks industry reaction to this morning’s announcement by the UK government that it will seek to introduce a 40p per unit minimum price for alcohol.

The plan was condemned by the Wine & Spirit Trade Association and beer and cider producer Heineken, but won support from C&C Group, the Irish-based owner of Magners and Gaymer ciders.

The government said a minimum price of 40p per unit would put the lower limit for a 13% abv bottle of wine at £3.92, 40% abv spirits at £11.20 and a four-pack of 5% abv beer at £3.52.

It said it would also consult on a ban for multibuy promotions in supermarkets and off-licences.

Home secretary Theresa May said: “Most drinks will not be affected, but cheap vodka, superstrength cider and lagers will go up in price. The dangerous drinks will become more expensive; the price of a normal pint in the local pub will not increase by a single penny.”

Gavin Partington, interim chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, said: “A 40p minimum unit price will impact only on the bottom 30% of households by income group – hitting the poor hardest – and will do nothing to address the causes of alcohol misuse.

"There is no compelling evidence that retailer promotions are causing alcohol misuse – indeed overall levels of alcohol consumption are falling.  

“Government policy should be evidence-based and there is no evidence that banning alcohol promotions will reduce alcohol misuse.”

A Heineken spokesman said: “We don’t believe that a policy of minimum unit pricing will be successful in deterring those who misuse alcohol. It is a blanket measure likely to impact on moderate consumers and particularly the poorest.”

Henry Chevallier, chair of the National Association of Cider Makers, said: “Minimum unit pricing is not a silver bullet. A commitment to implement it without debate is not how we expect government to operate. “

But one cider producer did support the government’s plans. A spokesman for Magners firm C&C, said: “In principle, we support the Government’s proposals to introduce minimum pricing measures for alcohol so long as it is introduced as one of a range of measures aimed at tackling this issue; and these measures are implemented fairly and proportionately.”

Paul Schaafsma, general manager for the UK and Europe at McGuigan wine supplier Australian Vintage, was also warm to the plans.

“We view the controls on pricing as being potentially good news for quality brands that sell at sustainable price points.

“Australian sales above £5 have been growing strongly recently and I believe that this will not impact on McGuigan or the Australian category as a whole.

“This move will put pressure on some of the Old World suppliers playing at the lower end of the market.

“Obviously this change in policy will potentially affect the way in which some of the promotional mechanics work, but we will be working hard with industry partners to ensure that we support this government initiative.”

Keith Bott, chairman of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), said: “We welcome today’s announcement, so long as the policy is implemented in a way that genuinely helps to close the gap between beer prices in the off- and on-trade.”

The ruling SNP is already at advanced stages of plans to introduce minimum unit pricing in Scotland.




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