Supermarkets braced for minimum alcohol pricing

Scottish supermarkets are preparing to raise the price of certain high-alcohol products when new minimum-pricing guidelines become law on Tuesday.
Cheap, high-strength beers and ciders are being targeted by the legislation. Picture: John DevlinCheap, high-strength beers and ciders are being targeted by the legislation. Picture: John Devlin
Cheap, high-strength beers and ciders are being targeted by the legislation. Picture: John Devlin

Retailers will be forced to increase the cost for own brand spirits by up to £3, while larger multi-packs of beer, wine and strong cider will also be affected.

The move, which will set a baseline price of 50p per unit of alcohol, is designed to deter the sale of cheaper alcohol in an attempt to curb the nation’s drinking problem.

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However, certain supermarkets have responded to the incoming price hike by slashing the cost of products as they look to pull in customers hoping to stock up before the increase.

Some of the big six supermarkets have cut prices on bottles of 70cl spirits to as little as £10, while others have ­introduced huge savings on multi-packs of lager, with 20-can packs available for just £10.

It is hoped that minimum pricing will help to reduce the number of alcohol-­related deaths across the country, ­saving at least 400 lives over the next five years and leading to around 8,000 fewer hospital admissions.

Under the new laws, a 700ml bottle of vodka, with a typical alcohol content of around 37 per cent, could not be sold for less than £13.13.

For whisky, the minimum price would be £14 and for 20 cans of lager, in 440ml volume cans, the base price would be set at £17.60.

But, with the minimum price for a pint (568ml) of beer being about £1.14 and large glass of wine about £1.50, the move is unlikely to have any noticeable affect on pubs and restaurants.

The new law is not a tax and does not generate income for the government. Instead its aims it to reduce the availability of cheap alcohol by setting a floor price.

In particular, ministers want the guidelines to target large bottles of super-strength cider, which currently retail for less than a bottle of cola.

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A two litre bottle of strong cider at 7.5 per cent abv (alcohol by volume) is 15 units of alcohol and should cost £7.50.

The policy was initially passed by Holyrood in 2012, but it wasn’t until November 2017 that the Supreme Court dismissed the challenge of the drinks lobby, lead by industry body the Scotch Whisky Association, that a timeline for the proposal was put in place.

Shortly after the ruling, Health Secretary Shona Robison announced the date for the minimum pricing introduction off the back of figures showing more than 1,200 people had died of alcohol-related illness in the previous year.

A public consultation was then held before the minimum 50p price was agreed upon in February this year – however some opponents criticised the rate for being too low, arguing it should have been set higher to account for inflation.

Speaking to MSPs on Thursday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Prevention is better than cure, which is why the introduction of minimum pricing is such a positive step forward.”

She continued: “In years to come, I think this will be something this parliament will be really, really proud of.”

The legislation has a “sunset clause”, meaning it will be reviewed after five years before a decision is taken on whether it should continue.