Supermarkets playing hide the bottle

Christchurch supermarket owners applying for liquor licences are charting new territory to deal with booze laws.

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 sets out the purpose of a "single alcohol area", which the owners of South City New World and Bishopdale New World are grappling with.

The supermarkets, both under new ownership, have applied for off-licences through the Christchurch District Licensing Committee.

South City New World's application went unopposed and the committee granted the licence, with conditions, on June 9.

According to Commissioner Robin Wilson's decision, it was the first time a "single alcohol area" had been imposed on a supermarket in the district.

The purpose of a single alcohol area, under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, is "to limit (so far as is reasonably practicable) the exposure of shoppers in supermarkets and grocery stores to displays and promotions of alcohol".

In his decision, Wilson said because the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act was new, no relevant case law existed, and "it falls to this committee to determine to the best of its ability what the law requires".

"The act does not require that a single alcohol area be totally hidden from view, nor that its location should provide undue inconvenience to customers who wish to purchase alcohol," he said.

However, the "pathway that takes a customer from the entrance of the store to the general shopping aisles and on the return journey to the checkouts must not lead that customer through the single alcohol area".

Wilson said the single alcohol area set out in South City New World's application did not meet that threshold.

That was because a cabinet display under a "Wine Selection" sign faced a direct pedestrian route between the main part of the store and the checkouts, he said.

"I do not believe that requiring the removal of this display would be unreasonable."

South City New World has appealed the decision through the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority (ARLA).

A similar application by Bishopdale New World was the subject of another hearing by the Christchurch District Licensing Committee on June 26.

Nigel Bond applied for a new off-licence after taking over the supermarket this year, and unlike South City New World's application, his was opposed by New Zealand Police, Community and Public Health (Medical Officer of Health) and a Christchurch City Council (CCC) alcohol licensing inspector.

The hearing on June 26 focused on differing opinions of what a "reasonably practicable" single alcohol area was - as per the new legislation.

Bond said his store had "considerable space constraints" that limited options for a single alcohol area and there were "no separate areas that we could easily place our alcohol display in".

"This leaves only grocery aisles. When the store was set up, our main alcohol display was placed in a single area - in one aisle," he said.

Sergeant Kelvin Giddens, of the Canterbury alcohol harm reduction team, said the supermarket's proposed floor plan did not sufficiently limit the exposure of shoppers to displays, promotions and advertisements of alcohol.

"Under the . . . plan a customer purchasing dairy or bakery products, or any other product along that same wall, would be required to walk into the alcohol area to obtain the goods and their direct path to the point of sale is through the alcohol area," he said.

Bond said: "We have considered other aisles. However, in our opinion this would serve no purpose other than to bring our alcohol area closer to the entrance, and would incur considerable costs. We simply have no other options."

The Christchurch District Licensing Committee has reserved its decision.

CCC alcohol licensing team leader Fiona Proudfoot said every supermarket and grocery-store owner in Christchurch would ultimately be subject to the new legislation, including the single alcohol area provisions when applying for a new off licence or renewing an existing one.

"This is something that is being tested all around the country. The legislation has been adopted by Parliament [and] has gone though a significant process in order to get to that point. Everyone is aware that it is something we have got to work with," she said.

"There will be, as with any new legislation, a bedding-in period.

"Case law follows, and that ultimately gives guidance to the decision-makers."

Bond and the owners of South City New World refused to talk to The Press.

Foodstuffs group communications director Antoinette Shallue said: "As both of these matters are still before the relevant authorities we will not be making any comment."

Source - The Press