Retailers joining schemes that involve reducing the supply of high-strength alcohol could be at risk of breaking competition law.

In documents provided to retailers by trading standards, retailers are advised that they “risk being fined” if they agree with other retailers, or share plans with other retailers, to stop selling high-strength alcohol.

Paul Edwards, who owns a string of stores in Merseyside, recently became involved in Reduce the Strength, a voluntary pledge not to stock high-strength beers and ciders. He called for manufacturers to be more understanding towards the scheme’s cause.

“Those companies should be advocating responsible drinking,” Edwards said. “People aren’t going to completely stop drinking because of Reduce the Strength.”

“It is a criminal offence for individuals to engage dishonestly in the most serious cartel activities,” reads a Government guide to competition and cartel laws, which can be read in full here.

The guide goes lists the four “most serious” activities as:

  • Price-fixing
  • Market-sharing
  • Bid-rigging
  • Agreements to limit production or supply.

In a landmark hearing last year, a judge ruled in favour of a Lifestyle Express owner in Newcastle, who claimed he had lost £280,000 after Reduce the Strength became a condition of his licence.

Drinks companies have also been known to threaten legal action, having previously alleged that the pre-agreed withdrawal of certain products creates an illegal cartel.

Paul Edwards will deliver a keynote speech at the Local Shop Summit on October 12. For more information, go to betterretailing.com/LSS.