Since Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement earlier this week that pubs, bars and clubs would all need to cease trading as a measure to slow the spread of COVID-19, bottle shops have been allowed to remain trading.

But over the past days rumours have been circulating that bottle shops might also soon follow suit. Our industry associations are reminding retailers to remain calm, to not believe rumours, and only listen to reports from official sources.

Andrew Wilsmore, CEO of Alcohol Beverages Australia, told National Liquor News that around the world, beer, cider, wine and spirits have been deemed essential items, and as such bottle shops should expect to be allowed to continue to trade.

“As this crisis unfolds, the Prime Minister through the National Cabinet is making decisions based on expert advice – and that is the only advice we should be listening to. To date, they have seen the need to maintain a supply and access to everyday items which has included beer, wine, spirits and ciders. Other parts of the world have declared these as essential items, and while Australia has its own unique licensing system for the sale of alcohol, we should continue to expect to be allowed to trade during the next phases of this crisis.

“Government also needs to carefully consider the potential unintended consequences of introducing additional restrictions of supply, namely: unwarranted and multiple movements, greater hoarding, physical and verbal abuse of retail staff, difficulty in maintaining 1.5m of space due to more frequent shopping occasions, and illicit practice.

“Promoting adherence to self-isolation requires the home environment to be convivial and the ability to access everyday items such as a beer, wine, spirit or cider (which are a part of Australian culture) should be viewed as being critical to self-isolation success.”

Restrictions in Western Australia

The Western Australian Government’s announcement on Wednesday, which places restrictions on takeaway alcohol sales in the State was disappointing as it was made without proper consultation with the packaged drinks industry.

Julie Ryan, CEO of Retail Drinks Australia, said: “We have no issue with the Government’s attempts to mitigate any harmful effects arising from alcohol abuse during the current crisis, however we believe that the limits as they stand will be cumbersome to execute and will potentially put our teams at risk.

“The limits are complex to calculate, will lead to delays in processing of transactions, and we are genuinely concerned will unnecessarily spark panic buying. All of these outcomes are counterproductive to social distancing.

“Several members of the drinks industry are currently in discussions with the Federal Government who have requested that national restrictions be put into place, using recommendations from the industry on how to best implement these measures.

“By setting the product limits in millilitres rather than a simpler method the WA Government has made restrictions that are very difficult to implement.

“The WA government has enforced a 2.25 litre limit on wines, which is three standard 750ml bottles. However, cask wine packaging comes in two, three, four or five litre formats, so immediately all retailers in WA will be unable to retail cask wines beyond the two litre size. Four and five litre cask wine cannot be sold and stocks will need to be destroyed if these restrictions are not lifted.

“The restriction on beer, cider and premix is 11.25 litres, which is a carton (24 bottles) of drinks in the 500ml size. However, the majority of beer cases are made up of 330ml bottles or cans, and one case makes up 7920ml, which means many customers will look at adding bottles to this purchase to ‘use up’ the entire limit.

“Needless to say, these complicated limits will put immense pressure on our already strained teams and it will slow down the purchasing process for customers. We are concerned that this will lead to anger and aggression from customers towards staff – similar to the behaviour we have seen in the supermarkets.

“We are happy to work with regulators on retail limits, and we would encourage them to use the industry’s input and recommendations to put in place simpler limits that can be executed on a national level,” says Ryan.

Wilsmore says that industry associations have been in close contact with the Liquor Ministers and leaders offices in each State and Territory. He says they have received assurances that no other jurisdiction is considering the measures recently being trialled in Western Australia, which have come under significant criticism.

“Our industry has a longstanding commitment to responsible consumption, and we trust that Australians will maintain the dramatic cultural shift that has occurred over the last 20 years to a drinking culture where moderation is the new norm.

“DrinkWise, an industry-funded body, has and continues to educate the community about the need to moderate if consuming alcohol, particularly in the current environment as Australians self-isolate.”

Deborah Jackson

Deb joined Intermedia in 2015 as Editor of National Liquor News and Deputy Editor of The Shout. Since then, she has also worked as the Editor of Beer & Brewer and the New Zealand title, World of Wine....

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