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03-12-2016, 11:31
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You must have been living in a cave if you hadn’t noticed that alcohol prices in the off-trade tend to be considerably cheaper than those in the on-trade. This has been the case for decades, and realistically is just a fact of life. Yes, over the years the differential has widened, but that has been as much due to pub prices rising above inflation than off-trade prices dropping. And obviously, as the off-trade accounts for a steadily growing share of consumption, the gap has loomed larger as a factor in the market.
Now parts of the licensed trade seem to have suddenly woken up to this fact and are having a good whinge about it (http://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/Legal/Legislation/Operators-slam-cheap-alcohol-offers-in-supermarkets). “They’re selling Carling for 64p a pint! How can I possibly compete with that?” The answer, of course, is that you can’t, you never have been able to, and you don’t have to. A pub is far more than just an alcohol shop, and to suggest that pubs are in direct competition with supermarket drinks is no more realistic that claiming that restaurants are threatened by cheap ready meals. As Cooking Lager rightly points out:
@oldmudgie (https://twitter.com/oldmudgie) those that think pubs are nothing other than beer shops & supermarket prices are a problem fail to understand what a pub is
— Cooking Lager (@CarpeZytha) 1 December 2016 (https://twitter.com/CarpeZytha/status/804330879640334336) In reality, very little off-trade alcohol consumption is readily transferable to pubs anyway. It’s rarely a simple either-or decision. And to claim that raising off-trade prices would make people any more likely to visit pubs is delusional. Even if a 50p/unit minimum price was applied, that 64p pint of Carling would still be only £1.13, or a third the price in a pub. There’s still a massive saving to be had.
The Christmas and New Year season is also one where, more than any other, people will be looking to entertain at home, and to get the keenest prices on the food and drink they buy. If they go in a pub to find the owner bemoaning the fact that they’ve been able to get some bargains, they’re likely to see that as a distinctly Scrooge-like attitude. And how many pubs are open on Christmas Day evening anyway?
It’s also very wide of the mark to claim that such offers amount to “loss-leading”. Yes, profit margins for both brewer and retailer will have been pared to the bone but, as I’ve explained before (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/loss-of-brain-leading.html), loss-leading just doesn’t work like that. To sell something that can account for a substantial proportion of a typical trolley-load at an actual loss is commercial suicide. John Ellis of the Crown Inn at Oakengates makes this dubious assertion without a shred of hard evidence.
As I’ve said many times over the years, if you seek to make common cause with the anti-drink lobby to gain a short-term commercial advantage, you are on a hiding to nothing. In the wise words of Churchill, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”


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