Supermarkets hit back in cheap alcohol row

LONDON - Supermarkets will stand firm in the face of growing calls from MPs to scrap alcohol promotions despite being criticised for driving Britain's "binge-drinking" culture by selling brands as loss leaders.

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The British Retail Consortium, which represents supermarket chains such as Tesco, J Sainsbury and Asda, hit back at MPs on the Commons home affairs select committee, who said they should be banned from selling alcohol at below cost.

The recommendation was welcomed by the pub industry, which is seeing pubs close at the rate of around five a day, while its share of alcohol sales plummets.

The industry has been damaged in recent years by an increase in purchases in the off-trade, brought on by factors such as the smoking ban and cheaper alternatives in supermarkets.

Stephen Robertson of the BRC said it was not the norm for retailers to sell alcohol at less than cost. He said it was a sales strategy used occasionally to promote new brands.

He said: "Promotions don't create excessive consumption. They simply offer customers value for money alongside other groceries. Promotional activity tends to be on larger volumes, which are consumed with friends and family over an extended period.

"At a time when household budgets are under pressure, these measures would penalise the majority who drink perfectly responsibly."

Ministers said they were examining the recommendations carefully.

Up to now, the government has consistently failed to find a consensus on the subject, with the business department and Treasury pitted against the department of health, which is seeking more draconian new rules.

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