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Asda calls time on bargain basement booze in its stores

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Supermarket giant Asda has called time on cut price alcohol in a move that could see the end of the bargain basement deals.

The retail chain, which has 16 stores across Northern Ireland, has introduced a policy not to sell alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT in a bid to tackle the growing problem of binge-drinking.

Instead a “floor price” will be rolled out, setting a minimum cost for alcoholic drinks.

Chief executive Andy Clarke outlined the plan in a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May and claimed it was a “first step” towards a new way of selling alcohol in the UK.

Mr Clarke said in his letter: “We accept that the way in which alcohol is sold to the public needs to change and I welcome the high priority given by the new coalition Government to tackling alcohol misuse by working with business.

“I am writing to you to call for the establishment of a floor price for alcohol below which it would be illegal to sell.

“But words count for nothing without actions to back them up, so it will be Asda's policy in all our stores not to sell alcohol to the public below the cost of duty plus VAT.

“I see this as a small but important first step in the process towards creating a new way of selling alcohol in the UK.”

He said the policy would apply to “99% of the alcohol we sell”, with store managers retaining the right to set prices for damaged or end of range products.”

Asda's decision comes two months after Tesco chief Sir Terry Leahy backed a call for minimum pricing.

“We are pleased they have followed our lead,” a Tesco spokesman said.

Governments in England and Scotland have been wrangling over the implementation of a minimum pricing policy for some time.

At Stormont, the Asda move has been welcomed by the Department of Health.

“Health Minister Michael McGimpsey takes the issue of misuse of alcohol, particularly binge-drinking and underage drinking, very seriously and addressing alcohol-related harm is a key priority,” a spokeswoman said.

“This announcement by Asda is a positive step.”

Meanwhile Colin Neill, chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, which has been campaigning for a minimum pricing policy, added: “We would encourage all other retailers to do the same; in particular Tesco which has previously highlighted an intention to end below cost selling and back the introduction of minimum pricing if the Government takes the lead.”

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