The supermarket’s external affairs director, Paul Kelly, accused the sector of “holding back cultural change” by undercutting supermarkets with cheap deals on “super-strength” products.
He said: “Eighty-five per cent of high-strength products are sold by the convenience sector, and at a price 30% cheaper than in the supermarkets, so the convenience sector is a good place to start when you’re looking at this problem.”
Kelly was speaking at a Westminster forum about forming social policy to tackle alcohol abuse. He said Asda – the only major multiple that has not expanded into the convenience channel – is working hard to help strip a billion units from the market as part of the Responsibility Deal.
Kelly said Asda is launching 15 SKUs of lower-strength products this month and giving more shelf space and merchandising to lighter drinks.
He also laid into on-trade promotions, arguing that selling three glasses of wine for the price of two was holding the industry back from change.
James Lowman, chief executive at the Association of Convenience Stores, hit back, calling the comments “disappointing”.
He said: “It is not a signal of a company that sees itself as a partner with others in the trade committed to working to tackle alcohol-related harm.
“We should be supporting responsible retailers wherever they operate, and it plays into the hands of those who want to see far heavier regulation of the alcohol industry when different sectors start blaming each other.
“Asda needs to explain what it thinks the solution is to high strength alcohol being on sale and give examples where it has agreed voluntarily to withdraw products from sale.
“The issues involved in tackling high strength alcohol are complex, and convenience retailers are working on local partnerships that will bear down on problem drinking.”
David Wilson, the British Beer & Pub Association’s director of public affairs, said he was “happy to welcome Asda’s plans to promote lower strength drinks with a concerted campaign.”
He added: “It’s vital that retailers show this kind of leadership if we are to deliver on the industry’s pledge to remove a billion units from the market by 2015.”