Competing supermarkets looking to cash-in on World Cup fever are locked in a battle to cut alcohol prices, causing health experts to worry about some lagers being on sale for less than water.
Up for grabs: Supermarkets have been engaged in cut-price warfare
New research shows the World Cup price cuts mean consumers can drink over their daily recommended alcohol limit for less than £1, prompting experts to demand a ban on alcohol prices at “dangerously low levels” because it is fuelling health problems, crime and antisocial behaviour.
The Prime Minister David Cameron is under pressure to act after his pledge on alcohol pricing two years’ ago, when he announced the need for an end to bargain-bin booze by saying: ‘When beer is cheaper than water, it’s just too easy for people to get drunk on cheap alcohol at home before they even set foot in the pub.’
An investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches found three leading UK supermarket chains selling lager cheaper than sparkling Perrier water.
It is reported that Tesco is selling multipacks of Fosters, Carlsberg and Carling lager at 69p a pint and Strongbow cider for 65p a pint. This compared with Perrier mineral water costing 73p a pint, while in Asda, the same beers can be bought for 72p a pint, compared with 76p a pint for Perrier. At Sainsbury’s, 20 cans of Fosters lager was 72p a pint while 15 cans of Strongbow cost £8, equating to 69p a pint, 7p less than a pint of sparkling water.
Researchers also found that Tesco and Asda have also been selling two-litre bottles of own-brand cider for £2.25, which means a man could drink his recommended daily alcohol limit for £1 and a woman for 75p.
Commenting on the findings, Katherine Brown, director at the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: “The government has completely reneged on its commitment to tackle pocket money-priced alcohol, which is fuelling rates of disease and disorder in the UK.”
21 health and crime specialists signed an open letter criticising ministers for failing to “tackle the burden that cheap alcohol places on society”, especially after the recent scrapping of the 45p per unit minimum pricing plan by the Conservative-led coalition.
Ministers insisted it would be disastrous to penalise hardworking families who drank responsibly, instead announcing in February a plan to ban ‘very cheap’ booze. In light of this, since 28 May 2014 it has been illegal to sell alcoholic beverages below the combined cost of duty and VAT.
The ruling means that a 440ml can of 4% abv lager must now be sold for a minimum of 40 pence, while the same quantity of 9% abv lager would carry a minimum price of £1.15. A 70cl bottle of 37.5% abv vodka must cost at least £8.89, while a 750ml bottle of 12.5% abv wine needs to be priced at £2.46 or more.
Drinks trade representatives also echoed the punishment of responsible drinking in their opposition to the proposed minimum price plan, with Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, saying: “We agree that there is insufficient evidence to support the introduction of minimum unit pricing. It would unfairly penalise the majority of responsible consumers while doing little to tackle the root causes of alcohol misuse.”
The British Retail Consortium, which represents supermarkets, said: “The efforts of retailers working with the government to give clear health information [and] reinforce health messages . . . are having an effect and we are committed to building on these.”
Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said: “There has been no government U-turn on minimum unit pricing. It is still on the radar, but it is sensible to await the legal ruling in Scotland before advancing it further in England.”
“Our ban on the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT is the first ever government intervention to set a floor for alcohol prices and its significance should not be underestimated. It is after all a minimum price of sorts. It will stop the worst examples of very cheap and harmful drink.”