2010 proved to be a year of survival for many in the independent off-trade in Ireland. Disposable income was further restricted in a market where the multiple sector continued to abuse their dominant position in Irish retailing.
The Government finally attempted to address the issue of cross-border shopping in reducing excise duty on alcohol in the 2010 budget. This move proved to be too little too late for many independent traders. The reduction in alcohol taxation also provided an opportunity for the multiple sector to exploit the reduced prices to stimulate high volume purchases in the Republic. Once again, the issue of responsible trading proved to be of less importance to the supermarkets than driving footfall to their outlets.
A report from the Drinks Industry Group Ireland (DIGI) in March confirmed that average alcohol consumption had returned to 1995/6 levels. This economic statistic hid the reality of sleepless nights, job losses and business closures. The National Off Licence Association typically comprises single-outlet family-owned businesses integrated in their communities. These entrepreneurs have found themselves the victims of Government inaction and mismanagement over the past two years. Calls for longer-term strategic approaches by Government were ignored for the sake of short-term expediency. It is only now, as we look back at the performance of 2009 and 2010, that we can really measure the impact of the Government’s failure to act in a timely manner.
By failing to address the huge difference in the cost of alcohol between Northern Ireland and the Republic earlier, the state simply allowed these revenues to go elsewhere. In a 2010 budget submission, outgoing NOffLA Chairman, Jim McCabe made the case for tackling the high excise duties in a bid to “support economic recovery, restore economic confidence and sustain employment in the drinks industry and to reduce cross border tax revenue loss.” The DIGI report illustrated the extent to which Jim McCabe’s proposals were some of the best advice this Government could have followed.
While the DIGI report presented a stark picture of the industry, many retailers have survived by ‘treading water’; for others it has been about survival. 2010 has also proved that there is strength in numbers and support from the camaraderie of colleagues. Membership of the National Off Licence Association can provide both – as well as preparation for the more favorable trading conditions that lie ahead.
The National Off Licence Association continued to promote standards of excellence with the fourteenth year of the Off Licence of the Year Awards and the tenth Irish Wine Show, both of which underlined the importance of continually striving to achieve the very best.
Following the 2009 revamp of NOffLA’s Responsible Trading in the Community (RTC), Anita O’Connell achieved another first for the scheme. Newly-elected NOffLA chairperson, Evelyn Jones, announced that Ireland will be the first market in Europe to provide specialised on-line training in addition to formal certification for management and staff who have direct responsibility for retailing alcohol. Under a new initiative, specialist alcohol retailers will have access to a dedicated e-learning facility which can lead to qualification for a ‘Responsible Trading Certificate’.
The Responsible Trading in the Community (RTC) programme, created and implemented by the National Off-Licence Association, has come to be recognised as one of the most successful initiatives for tackling the alcohol misuse and underage drinking problems in Ireland over many years.
Providing vital services
NOffLA continued to provide a high level of service to its members on a day-to-day basis throughout 2010. As the lobbying body for the independent off-trade in Ireland, the association continues to represent the views of its members, including making an annual pre-budget submission, independently and as part of the Drinks Industry Group. NOffLA also worked to maintain, and further develop, relationships with suppliers in relation to margins, prices, and promotions. NOffLA members also have the opportunity to benefit from group membership of the association’s pension scheme, and health and trading insurance provided by specialists who know the independent off-trade.
This level of service could not be provided without great efforts on the part of the members of the NOffLA team, including administrator Reggie Walsh and newly-elected chairperson, Evelyn Jones. Thanks must be expressed to the members of the association’s Council for all their work throughout 2010. These men and women ensure that the association continues to represent the views of all the members across the country. The council members – and especially those on the Executive give freely of their time to ensure that the agenda of the independent off-trade remains centre-stage within the Irish drinks industry and in the broader political and social environments.