Retailers are being urged to be more responsible, says Liz Hamson

The women on the right may have rued their drunken excesses the next day. But they probably won’t have held their local supermarket responsible.
Despite claims from some quarters that cheap alcohol available in supermarkets encourages binge drinking, a whopping 86% of the general public do not blame the supermarkets in any way for the phenomenon, according to an exclusive online survey for The Grocer by HI Europe.
Most hold themselves responsible, closely followed by the very institutions that have been wagging their fingers at supermarket promotional deals to deflect attention from their own culpability: the pubs and clubs.
Paradoxically, however, shoppers do expect the multiples to tackle the problem. Indeed, 38% would like them to do more than they are at present to spread the responsible drinking message. And almost one in five - 19% - feel that they are behaving irresponsibly in offering promotional deals.
HI senior researcher Caroline North says: “Supermarkets are no longer just a place to purchase food and drink. They are seen as having a social responsibility above and beyond their usual powers. People look to them as a place to be influenced, to get advice and to be educated on these issues.”
The 18 to 25-year-olds form an unlikely alliance with 45 to 54-year-olds, with 14% and 15% respectively blaming supermarkets for contributing to the binge drinking problem compared with 8% of 25 to 34-year-olds. North suggests this may be because the latter group are the most likely to visit pubs and clubs.
The findings came as William Reed Publishing, publisher of The Grocer, launched its Responsible Drinks Retailing campaign at the Houses of Parliament.
OLN editor Graham Holter called on retailers to adhere to a five-point plan: ask for ID if the customer appears to be under 21; make sure the correct ID is offered; don’t serve customers who appear to be drunk; refuse to sell to customers believed to be passing it on to under-age drinkers; and encourage sensible drinking.
Those taking part will be asked to display posters and distribute leaflets with the slogan ‘I am a responsible drinks retailer’.
John Grogan MP, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group, praised recent initiatives to reduce the number of two-for-one promotional deals, but urged more retailers to back the campaign, which currently has support from Bargain Booze, Thresher, Unwins and Wine Cellar.
The multiples insist they are addressing the issue. An Asda spokeswoman says: “We fully support initiatives to get binge drinking under control and go further than most.”
She highlights the fact that Asda’s own-label drinks list alcohol units and carry the website address, as do magazines and flyers advertising alcohol. On special-offer 24 packs, the web site is displayed on the PoS material.
Since June, Asda has operated a policy of no sale to anyone without ID who looks younger than 21. Shelf signage now warns: ‘If you are lucky enough to be 18 and look younger, we may ask you for your ID.’
Tesco, meanwhile, claims it was the first multiple to print the number of alcohol units on the back of its own-label beers, wines and spirits almost a decade ago. It has also added recommended daily allowances to its own-label alcoholic drinks.
However, concedes a spokeswoman: “It is a complex issue that the whole industry needs to look at. Our customer research shows that the majority of alcohol bought in our stores is bought with the family weekly shop. While we do not apologise for the great value and deals we offer customers, we do understand we have a role to play in providing customers with the information they need to make an informed choice.”
Somerfield adopts a similar line. “We include clear information on the alcohol levels in all our drinks and run features in our customer magazine on sensible drinking,” says a spokeswoman. “Our strategy is to promote the appreciation of quality drinks and give clear information.”
She adds: “Somerfield is committed to the development of its healthy drinking policy and will continue to review these policies to ensure best practice.”
Judging by the HI findings, customers will be holding the multiples to their word.

What shoppers say
>>HI Europe survey for The Grocer
n Only 14% blame supermarkets in any way for the binge-drinking phenomenon
n 38% believe supermarkets should do more to tackle the problem
n 32% of shoppers would not be happy if alcohol was available to buy 24 hours a day at their local supermarket
n 19% think supermarkets are irresponsible for offering promotional deals on alcohol
n 85% say they would drink exactly the same amount if alcohol were on sale 24 hours a day