Convenience stores have joined forces with alcohol companies to call for local minimum pricing and super-strength alcohol bans to be declared illegal.
A letter to the Office of Fair Trading, seen by The Grocer, accuses the OFT of standing by while businesses are threatened with sanctions if they refuse to remove high-abv products from shelves or impose local minimum pricing.
Moves by areas such as Birmingham, Newcastle and parts of London to introduce their own alcohol policies have caused “chaos”, claims the letter from the Association of Convenience Stores, British beer and Pub Association, National Association of cider Makers and the wine and Spirits Trade Association.
“These authorities should not take part in any schemes that seek to influence prices in the market,” it says. “Yet we continue to see new announcements of schemes requesting retailers to participate each week, often with the threat of licensing sanctions should they not comply.”
The associations are now calling for “clear, unequivocal and specific advice” from the OFT.
The lack of intervention was partly explained by the OFT’s impending merger with the Competition Commission to form the Competition and Markets Authority on 1 April, a source said.
“The OFT is reluctant to take action on such a political issue while the merger is taking place, but this is going to be high on the agenda of the CMA when it launches,” the source added.
Last month, a consultation on the CMA’s priorities vowed to “prevent consumers losing out from anti-competitive mergers or practices”.
But retailers are split. While the likes of Sainsbury’s and Morrisons have attacked high-strength alcohol bans, East of England Co-op has rolled one out across its estate.