Supermarkets are criticised for selling beer as cheap as water
Key quote "The supermarkets want to sell alcohol in the same way that they sell bread or eggs, but you can't. There is a moral responsibility that comes with it." - Paul Waterson, president of the Scottish Licensed Traders' Association
Story in full BEER prices have dropped dramatically in the run up to Christmas, with high street supermarkets slashing rates in an attempt to beat their competitors.
In some cases, the cost of lager has fallen to as little as 11p per 100ml - roughly the same as bottled water - while spirits are already being sold on special offer.
The news is worrying both for health campaigners, who say it encourages binge drinking, and for pub owners whose sales in Scotland have already been hit by the smoking ban.
In its annual Christmas pricewatch, trade magazine Grocer showed that Stella Artois lager was on sale at Morrisons for just 11p per 100ml - barely 2p more than the same amount of Evian water - the equivalent of 62.48p for a pint.
Stella was chosen as the only beer included in the Grocer's Christmas Pricewatch survey because of its huge sales.
The discount is described as the lowest ever for the brand, stating at this time last year the lowest recorded price for Stella was 13p per 100ml at Asda. That dropped further to 12p per 100ml in the run-up to Christmas 2005.
But the report says that the annual "Beer Wars" have started even earlier aimed at boosting Christmas sales well in advance of the big day. Last week all retailers offered the same two-for-25 deal on Baileys and Bell's whisky. A similar price was offered in 2005 but not as early as this year.
Even prestige drinks are subject to discounts. Sainsbury's yesterday launched a week-long offer of 25 per cent off champagne and wine when customers buy six bottles or more.
Promoting the offer, the chain said: "This is the first time any supermarket has offered such a staggering discount across all wines and champagnes and the timing is perfect in the run up to Christmas."
Grocer's news editor Richard Clarke said the discounts were good news for shoppers but were likely to worry brewers.
"It just begs the question, given that you would expect the competition between supermarkets to get even fiercer before Christmas, just how low can prices go?" he said.
A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association Scotland criticised the price cuts: " Low prices encourage people to binge drink. We want to see much tougher measures put in place when it comes to off-sales, particularly where low-price alcohol is concerned."
Paul Waterson, president of the Scottish Licensed Traders' Association agreed: " This type of price-cutting just encourages people to drink excessively outside of a controlled environment like a pub.
"We have been getting rid of irresponsible drinks promotions in pubs to tackle alcohol abuse.
"The supermarkets want to sell alcohol in the same way that they sell bread or eggs, but you can't. There is a moral responsibility that comes with it."
The early price-cutting move has also come under fire from big brewers. Mark Gerken, Scottish & Newcastle UK's off-trade sales managing director, said: "We continue to despair. Do we really need to go to the levels of pricing we are seeing in the market in pursuit of market share?"
Morrisons claimed it took its responsibilities "very seriously" and that the current offer on Stella Artois would end on 10 December.
"We have introduced a certain number of promotional lines on popular products across the whole weekly shop to help customers prepare in advance for the festive season," a spokesman said.
"As a member of the Portman Group and the Retail Alcohol Standards Group , we take our responsibility very seriously."
EXECUTIVE AND BUCKFAST IN ROW OVER PLASTIC BOTTLES
THE Scottish Executive has entered a new row with the makers of the tonic wine Buckfast after it claimed credit for plans to sell the drink in plastic bottles.
Andy Kerr, the health minister, is reported to have said the move was as a result of Executive pressure to help cut antisocial behaviour.
It is claimed the glass bottles the high-strength drink is sold in could be dangerous in the hands of drunken youths. However, the company that sells Buckfast, J Chandler & Co, claims that it had planned to do this for some time, but had struggled to find a plastic that would not affect the taste of the drink.
Mr Kerr, who sparked the original row after describing the tonic wine as "a seriously bad drink", has now attacked the white wine drink Lambrini - currently being marketed to young women - and cider drinks such as Diamond White and White Lightning for fuelling antisocial behaviour. He has claimed they are too cheap and has voiced his concerns to the companies behind them.
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