Reducing the Strength: campaign gathers support from European producers

15 May, 2015

Schemes restrict beautifully crafted products like premium cider

Leading suppliers and trade associations have added their weight to OLN’s campaign against controversial Reducing the Strength schemes by demanding action from the European Commission.

Brussels is currently investigating a complaint lodged by OLN calling for legal clarity about the initiatives, which ban the sale of beers and ciders that are over certain strengths, typically 5.5% abv.

Nearly 100 schemes are now in place, despite concerns that retailers are being forced to break competition law and craft products are being swept from shelves.

Producers have rallied to reinforce the importance of the Commission’s intervention and written to emphasise the alarming expansion of the schemes and their distortion of the market.

The National Association of Cider Makers and the British Pub & Beer Association, which represent more than 1,000 producers between them, have pressed the Commission to take action, along with Gordon Johncox, managing director at Aston Manor.

Family-owned Belgium brewer Duvel has told the Commission that the schemes

“inevitably restrict the import to the UK of high-strength beers from EU member states”.

In his letter, general manager Matt Willson, said: “Our beers are premium, connoisseur products that are always promoted to be enjoyed in moderation.

“The activities of the local

authorities have given rise to a genuine concern to my company as an exporter of a premium Belgium beer to the UK.”

Independent retailers and supermarkets have complained about being pressured to sign-up to schemes, which authorities claim are voluntary.

Waitrose head of BWS Pierpaolo Petrassi MW told OLN the supermarket has declined to join schemes and questioned their aim.

He said: “With Reducing the Strength we regularly face the challenge of a local council asking: ‘Can you take out any high-strength beers and ciders?’ We would always go back with a logical argument.

“We would work face to face with them and make a distinction between a craft product, which is unashamedly premium, and other products.

“An authentic West Country cider is undoubtedly strong, but it’s beautifully crafted.

“We would say: ‘Let us understand what you are trying to do, because we don’t feel this product is contributing to the problem.’

“We would always make a case to say ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath water – this is not doing the same job as high-strength lager being consumed to excess by street drinkers’.”

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