Tesco backs veto on high-strength

Tesco is backing controversial schemes to ban the sale of high-strength beers and ciders, despite ongoing concerns over their legality.

Cider buyer Olivia Christou told OLN: “Tesco is a supporter of the Reducing the Strength scheme.

“High-strength lines have been removed, including those packaged in PET. The team is working closely with suppliers as we continue to reduce the alcohol in higher abv products.

“Part of the work being carried out also means we are reducing the vessel size of some of the higher abv lines to ensure they do not exceed the daily recommended allowance.”

Meanwhile, Morrisons has spoken out against Reducing the Strength schemes, in which councils ask retailers to join so-called voluntary schemes to limit or ban the sale of beers and ciders above a certain strength, ranging from 5%-6.5% abv.

A spokesman said: “Morrisons is willing to engage in a constructive dialogue with local authorities on this important issue and in some cases we do accept conditions on the licence relating to high-strength products. We were also the first retailer to sign up to the government’s Responsible Can Packaging Pledge.

“However, we believe that blanket restrictions on all high-strength products would deny choice to the majority of shoppers who enjoy stronger products responsibly.”

Both Asda and Sainsbury’s declined to comment on their approach to the schemes, though Sainsbury’s has already refused to participate with London authorities in Camden and in Croydon.

Questions have been raised over the legality of Reducing the Strength schemes, with the Competitions & Markets Authority saying there was no single answer to whether schemes were lawful or not.

The supermarkets’ views came as an OLN poll found that half of cider suppliers fear the schemes will affect sales.

Thatchers managing director Martin Thatcher said: “We’re concerned about this approach – it doesn’t tackle the underlying problems that some authorities are trying to alleviate. It’s penalising responsible drinkers for the actions of a minority.”

Producers were particularly concerned about the effect the schemes could have on the burgeoning craft cider sector, which many see as an important growth market for the category.

Jon Hopkins, account controller at Aspall, said: “It is critical to the long-term success and evolution of craft cider that legislation linked to cider abv does not restrict the development and implementation of premium cider NPD.

“An 8.2% abv wine would not be considered to be of high strength, so a premium craft cider of the same strength and consumed on the same occasion should be considered equally.”

Simon Reed, managing director of Rough Old Wife Cider, added: “It is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The issue is not strength, it is price and sales promotions by supermarkets, not independents.”

A spokesman for the National Association of Cidermakers said: “Very often cider, especially craft or artisan cider, will be stronger in alcohol – it is in the nature of the product.

“If such products are outlawed by blanket bans then certainly consumers are going to miss out on some of the finest ciders available, as well as producers and retailers being disadvantaged. This is a major concern to cidermakers whatever their scale.”

NACM chairman Paul Bartlett said: “We are concerned the pursuit of a flawed policy is diverting resources from the development and execution of effective approaches that could tackle the harm caused by alcohol misuse.

“Unless this is addressed quickly [these schemes] will continue to waste resources and frustrate efforts to tackle a complex and serious issue.”

OLN is campaigning for clarity over Reducing the Strength schemes. Have you been approached by your local authority? How has this affected your business? Share your views at getintouch@drinksretailingnews.co.uk or 01293 590056.

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