Asda has watered down its pledge to stop promoting alcohol in the foyers of its stores after rivals refused to take up the Leeds-based retailer’s challenge to follow suit.
Asda displayed pallets of Carling lager in its foyers over the August bank holiday and told The Grocer it would be promoting its alcohol deals in this area over Christmas and Easter.
“We believe in selling alcohol responsibly, which is why we were one of the first to sign up to Challenge 25 and the Responsibility Deal.
“However, two and a half years ago, we became the first retailer to remove alcohol promotions from foyers, hoping the industry would follow suit. Sadly they didn’t,” said a spokeswoman.
“Without more stringent measures from the government, we have had no choice but to reverse this decision during August bank holiday, Christmas and Easter both to meet customer demand and create a level playing field with our competitors.”
Councils pick up the cudgels
The drinks industry is gearing up for another possible legal battle over minimum pricing, this time against local politicians.
Newcastle City Council has introduced a minimum unit price of 50p for all alcohol products in its new licensing policy. Although it is voluntary, the council is looking at ways to act against companies that flout it if it can be linked to problems in the city. It is also pushing ahead with plans to restrict off-licence displays.
A further 10 councils in Greater Manchester are looking at ways to push ahead with minimum pricing following the government’s decision to scrap it in July. The WSTA warned that if such moves went ahead, they would “undoubtedly be subject to a legal challenge”.
Asda made the commitment to remove alcohol from the foyer of its stores when it joined the government’s Responsibility Deal in March 2011.
At the time CEO Andy Clarke said the pledge and a donation of £1m to tackle alcohol misuse by young people were part of its wider health agenda. “Our customers expect us to do the right thing,” he explained.
He also called on rival supermarkets to follow Asda’s lead, but the challenge was never taken up and highly visible alcohol promotions remain a regular feature of the other main supermarkets’ entrance halls.
Asda’s decision to go back on a key Responsibility Deal pledge is also likely to heap further pressure on the government and its handling of the Deal.
The programme has been beset with issues following a mass walkout of health groups who were angered by the government’s decision in July to drop plans for a minimum unit price.
Some insiders are now predicting that the government will be forced to scrap the alcohol programme altogether and focus its efforts solely on the food industry.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is expected to chair a meeting of the Deal’s members next month, but there are now no non-industry bodies left in the group spearheading alcohol policy, apart from Mentor UK.
“I think the government may well decide to press ahead with the Responsibility Deal, but narrow it down to concentrate on issues with food, where there seems to have been more progress than with alcohol,” said one retail source.