Shelf placement of no-alcohol and low-alcohol beer

By Katherine Rich (in Supermarket News), 1 August 2015

Ever since the Sale and Supply of Liquor Act 2012 came into effect there have been issues with interpretation – everything from the many requirements of local alcohol plans administered by councils, to exactly where in supermarkets certain sorts of products should be placed.

In recent months, some supermarkets have also come under fire for not acting sooner to move their alcohol displays from their entrances.

That seems to have been sorted now, but another issue has been causing ongoing uncertainty and friction for suppliers and supermarkets alike: the shelf placement of no-alcohol and low-alcohol beer. You’d think this would be an easy issue and that beer should be placed with other beer.

Right now, the law says because these products are not “alcohol” as defined by the Act then the law says they must be displayed away from other alcohol and in a different section in the store e.g. with other beverages like soft drinks, fruit juices and water.

Beer in the fizzy aisle? I’ll be polite and say it’s not a good fit on any level.   

The no-alcohol and low-alcohol beer brands look exactly like regular-strength beer brands. Apart from a few words, their packaging is the same, with the same corporate colours, branding, and logos. So alike are they that a friend of a colleague of mine recently arrived home to host a dinner party only to find that the 12-pack he had picked up in his haste at the local store was low-alcohol beer – apparently the last thing his guests wanted!

No-alcohol and low-alcohol beer is simply beer with the alcohol removed, and that’s why it has traditionally (and logically) been placed in the beer section in supermarkets. In its packaging, branding, and taste, it’s beer. Consumers see it as “a beer” product and not an alternative to soft drinks or other beverages.

Many drinkers of no-alcohol beer are also drinkers of full-strength beer. They choose to consume no-alcohol beer from time to time for a variety of reasons, such as health, sport, or having to drive. Consumers who purchase it want a beer taste without the alcohol and associated effects that come from drinking a full alcohol beverage, and being able to pick it up in one section of the supermarket makes perfect sense.

Everyone I’ve spoken to – beer producers, supermarkets, and consumers – sees no-alcohol or low-alcohol beer products “as a beer”. They are definitely not soft drinks. That’s why no one thinks putting them along side Coke and Pepsi is a bright idea.

Unless the law is corrected quickly, the unintended consequences of this murky law is twofold:

If no-alcohol and low-alcohol beer is in the soft drink aisle then it will annoy and inconvenience shoppers, who don’t expect to see beer among juices and soft drinks, and it will send a message that beer is no different to soft drinks. Surely that is contrary to the intent of the law and a PR ‘fail’ waiting to happen.

Then there’s the real risk that because supermarkets don’t want to risk a public backlash from placing these products alongside soft drinks and other products they will solve the problem by simply deleting the products altogether. Some have already indicated they may do this. Such a move would remove choice for beer drinkers who want to have a zero or low-alcohol option – surely the opposite to what the legislators intended with their law changes.

The stated intention of the law, amongst other harm minimisation objectives, was to reduce so-called harm from supermarket sales of alcohol. FGC has told the Minister of Justice that retailers being forced display no-alcohol and low-alcohol beer in the fizzy aisle goes against what the legislation is trying to achieve. If these beer products are completely deleted from supermarkets then the effect of the new laws will be the complete opposite of what Parliament intended in amending the Act, and that would be most disappointing for everyone, particularly FGC members marketing these products.

FGC strongly endorses the Government’s message of responsible alcohol consumption. Last November we wrote to the Ministry of Justice and the Minister alerting them to the unintended consequences of the law. The legal uncertainty continues and we’ve written again recently to say the industry’s patience is wearing thin. Unless this issue is fixed the status quo is lose/lose.