View Full Version : The Pub Curmudgeon - It’s just not fair!

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04-03-2016, 14:23
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For years, we have heard various sections of the pub trade complaining about unfair competition from supermarkets. This always comes across to me as basically making excuses. As I explained here (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2009/02/winds-of-change.html), there are plenty of reasons other than price why the on-trade has lost ground to the off-trade, and price probably isn’t even the main factor. Pubs are far from just alcohol shops; they are essentially selling hospitality, and they are competing as much with restaurants and cinemas for the “leisure pound” as with the off-trade. Plus, a high proportion of alcohol drinking occasions in both on- and off-trade cannot realistically be transferred to the other.
However, this week the Morning Advertiser has published an in-depth article on Are supermarkets killing pubs? (http://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/Legal/Legislation/Analysis-Are-supermarkets-killing-pubs) which repeats all the familiar canards and exaggerations that I have debunked over the years.
Off-trade alcohol is sold at “pocket-money prices” (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/brass-in-pocket.html)
Pubs are centres of controlled and responsible drinking (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/out-of-control.html)
Supermarkets get an unfair subsidy because food is zero-rated for VAT (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/a-taxing-question.html)
Minimum pricing would help pubs (http://curmudgeoncolumns.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/april-2013.html)
Supermarkets routinely sell alcohol at a loss (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/loss-of-brain-leading.html)
And there is no mention at all of the biggest single factor that has disadvantaged pubs in comparison with at-home drinking. If you have to stand out in the cold anyway, the attractions of paying £4 a pint for something you can get in a can for £1 and drink in the warmth and comfort of your sitting room seem a touch elusive.
Rather than moaning about unfair competition, surely the pub trade needs to take a collective look at what it can do about it. If you’re grumbling that customers are shunning your £3.80 pints, then you should consider how Sam Smith’s are able to sell bitter for £1.80, and Wetherspoons John Smith’s for £2.15 and real ales for not much more. OK, an individual licensee may not be able to change the pricing structure to achieve that, but pub owners and operators collectively certainly could. They have chosen to adopt a high-price, high-margin business model and the consequences are largely of their own making.
Making off-trade alcohol more expensive is not going to give people any more money to spend in pubs, as the sections of the pub and brewing trades who shamefully supported minimum pricing really should have understood. Trying to make common cause with the anti-drink lobby to skew the market in your favour is in the long run the road to disaster. As Winston Churchill famously said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

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