Retail Drinks Australia has labelled claims made by the foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) regarding growth in takeaway alcohol sales in 2020 and alarmist and misleading.
The claims came following data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics which showed a 26.7 per cent increase in alcohol retailer turnover from 2019 to 2020 to $15.6bn.
Caterina Giorgi, CEO of FARE said the data raises concerns about the role alcohol retailers played in advertising to Australians during the pandemic.
Retail Drinks CEO Michael Waters refuted FARE’s claims highlighting the decline in alcohol sales across on-premise venues which had been closed due to various lockdowns throughout COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are extremely disappointed to see that FARE have simply cherry-picked sales figures from the Australian
Bureau of Statistics and then used this data to paint an overly misleading and inaccurate picture of Australians’ drinking habits,” Waters said.
“What FARE have chosen to conveniently ignore is the fact is that takeaway alcohol sales grew in 2020 because on-premises venues such as pubs, clubs and restaurants were forced to close their doors for significant periods of the year due to COVID-19 lockdowns. Further, these on-premises venues were supported by governments with temporary exemptions permitting takeaway alcohol sales.
“The alarmist rhetoric from FARE is purely designed to create a false narrative around Australian alcohol consumption in an attempt to scare governments and policymakers into pursuing more restrictive alcohol-related policies.
“Far from the claims made by FARE, the recent ABS National Health Survey found a significant majority of Australians (85.6 per cent) have been drinking responsibly during the pandemic shut down, representing an improvement of 1.6 per cent since 2018.”
Meanwhile Alcohol Beverages Australia CEO Andrew Wilsmore said the ABS data is not the full story.
“We need to remember the hurt that’s been suffered by pubs, clubs and restaurants and cafes – where a quarter of total alcohol sales occur – and were either closed or suffered severe trading restrictions during the same year,” Wilsmore said.
“Thousands of jobs were lost and once proud venues forced to shut and the lack of international tourists to Australia has also seen a total collapse in duty-free sales.
“Those groups trying to suggest Australians have been drinking to excess during Covid lockdowns have got it wrong. Several studies, including the ABS, have shown that not to be the case, and combined with the reduction in on-premises sales, total alcohol consumed is predicted to be less than other years.
“The Federal Government has already forecast a slump with the most recent Federal Budget predicting a 15 per cent reduction in tax receipts from falling wine sales and 10 per cent reduction in beer sales in 2021-22.
“Packaged liquor sales are a value number, rather than a direct indicator of volume. Australians have modified their drinking habits during COVID and are choosing to spend a little more on a premium product, or are conscious of their wellbeing which has seen the sales of zero-alcohol products more than double.”
Waters also attacked FARE’s commentary attributing the growth in takeaway alcohol sales to irresponsible marketing practices by the industry.
“Any suggestion that the growth in takeaway alcohol sales is somehow a result of predatory marketing tactics by liquor retailers is a blatant falsehood and incredibly offensive.
“The retail liquor industry takes its commitment to responsible retailing very seriously, demonstrated through our various proactive industry responsibility initiatives, including Choose to DrinkWise, which encourages Australians to make more responsible choices around their alcohol purchasing habits and consumption.
“We are pleased to see more and more Australians enthusiastically embracing the message around responsible choices which is reflected in the fact that overall alcohol consumption across Australia is currently sitting at historic lows.”