The liquor rules are being enforced

Several high profile cases have recently demonstrated that authorities are cracking down harder on alcohol restrictions in stores. Since the law changes in 2012, it has been illegal for supermarkets and grocery stores to display alcohol in “prominent areas.” However, that rule did not kick in until a store applied to extend their liquor licence.

By this stage in 2015, most stores will have either applied for a new licence or be about to do so. This means it is crucial that they comply fully with the legislation. There are a number of community activists and health groups who will forcefully highlight any possible breaches, and councils, the health services and the Police appear to be taking a tougher line across the board. If there ever was a “grace period” while the new laws were bedded in, it is well and truly over.

While the exact definition of “prominent area” is still being debated, authorities are indicating that alcohol displays near the store entrance or near the store exit are not likely to comply.

One health official has referred to “running through a gauntlet of alcohol to get into the store” or “running through a gauntlet of alcohol to get to the checkout.” While this over-states the case (alcohol cannot force a shopper to make a purchase), it does suggest the official position is getting tougher.

There is a clear suggestion in recent decisions that shoppers should not have to walk past alcohol if they do not actively seek the product out. The cited rationale behind this policy is to protect children and vulnerable adults from seeing alcohol, and to reduce impulse buying of alcohol.

NARGON does not particularly support this display policy for reasons of principle and practicality. However, it is now the law and needs to be followed. Industry groups, including NARGON, successfully argued for the extended roll-out period precisely to allow stores the time needed to make the required changes. To their credit, the vast majority have done so with no real damage to their trade.

NARGON advises members who have alcohol displays near the entrance or exit of their store to either move the display before applying for a licence extension, or have a developed business plan showing the process of moving the displays in the relatively near future. The official attitude is hardening and objectors have experienced some recent successes which will embolden them further.

One particularly odd part of the 2012 reforms was the prohibition on food or even food promotion in the liquor aisles. At a time where licensed premises are required to offer food with drink, and bottle stores can put chips next to vodka, supermarkets are not allowed to even suggest foods which would go well with certain types of alcohol, far less display that food nearby.

This prohibition seems counter-intuitive as eating is a key way to reduce intoxication.

We should be encouraging people to have food while enjoying a drink, not artificially pretending they are unrelated products.

Wine and food matching has always been popular, with beer and food matching also growing quickly. Supermarkets, as purveyors of food and drink, could play an important role in promoting this trend but instead we have been hamstrung by overregulation.

This issue deserves to be revisited at the first opportunity. Finally, it is disappointing to still see a couple of supermarkets getting caught selling alcohol to under-age customers.

It may be timely to remind management and staff of their clear obligations, and for each checkout to have a sign with the required year of birth for legal purchase to help staff with the (admittedly tricky) maths.

Trina Snow, Executive Director, NARGON