The day after Tesco was welcoming moves set out in the Queen's Speech to ban below-cost alcohol promotions, it was selling Stella for 95p a litre. In other words: six pence below the cost of the excise duty and VAT costs it pays out to HMRC.
The height of hypocrisy? Tesco argues that such below-cost deals are rare (there was only one below-cost promotion that week); and that it's forced to use below-cost promotions because competition is fierce (though isn't it interesting that it offered the most competitive price on four of the five leading offers last Saturday?).
Where I do think Tesco has a point is when it says that supermarkets can't club together to set prices higher for fear of punitive fines.
John Fingleton and his team at the Office of Fair Trading have pursued this industry ruthlessly 'Fingers' heads our list of Influencers in part two of our Power List on p34) while the banks got away scot-free, until we bailed them out.
The question is: can legislation to ban so-called 'below-cost' selling help? As we explain here, drawing up and enforcing such legislation will be fiendishly difficult.
Even if it were possible, it's also likely to lead to artificially higher prices. And a similar law passed in 1987 in Ireland was repealed in 2005 after it was found not only to restrict trade, but to make little difference to problem drinking.
And yet I do think the government needs to act. Not because the law will limit antisocial behaviour. But because it is quite odious to think that the 40%-50% margins on fruit and veg are in effect subsidising cheap booze promos.
Surely, if supermarkets want so much to improve the health of the nation (as they say they do), and with studies showing fresh, healthy eating is so much more expensive, it should be the other way round?
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