Drinkers might ditch wine and turn to beer, as Government restrictions and taxes make it too expensive for anyone but the rich, a major retailer has warned.
According to Stephen Lewis, chief executive of Majestic Wine, which has almost 200 UK stores, a potential ban on multi-buy promotions and discounts in supermarkets – plus the recent 10p rise in wine duty – could mean drinkers turn to cheaper beer instead.
He told the Daily Telegraph: “Increasingly people are finding wine quite expensive and instead they are turning to other types of alcohol, drinking beer, cider and other drinks.
“My real concern is [that] as duty continues to escalate, more and more people will find wine unaffordable. And the thing about wine is…it’s a sociable drink, it’s associated with food, it’s associated with gathering together and associated with mealtimes.”
This would reverse the widespread social “revolution” of people enjoying wine with their meal, he said.
“Having established the culture of food and wine, which is a sea change from where we were 30 years ago, why would we want to stop that?”
The fresh concerns come after the duty escalator was scrapped for beer at last month’s Budget – but kept for wine, spirits and cider.
Mr Lewis warned that banning promotions in shops would not tackle the issues of antisocial behaviour and drunken disorder in the UK: “The Majestic consumer is not the person who’s smashing up things – they’re not the problem drinkers,” he said.
He said Majestic Wine is increasing its sales, but overall wine consumption is falling: duty and VAT make up £2.40 of the price of every bottle sold, and that is set to rise.
The high taxes are also putting some producers off trying to sell their products in the UK.
Mr Lewis said several major producers in New Zealand had decided to focus their sales on China and emerging markets instead.
“Increasingly you’re getting wine producers withdrawing from the UK because they see it as an unprofitable market,” he said.
In an interview with the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this week, the minister for public health, Anna Soubry, said the Government had not yet made a decision over minimum alcohol pricing – and possibly never would – despite the idea being backed by Prime Minister David Cameron at first.
Ms Soubry said the policy might seem like “big bossy Government cracking down on people who don’t have a problem”.
It was reported last month that a u-turn had been made on the controversial plans after opposition from Cabinet members including Home Secretary Theresa May.
Ms Soubry told the BBC: “There are good arguments in favour of [minimum alcohol pricing] and against.
“I was not convinced. I have been convinced because I met a whole load of liver specialists and doctors and they persuaded me it was a good idea.”