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"Small risk" to drinks industry from July Budget, WSTA says

Published:  18 May, 2015

The WSTA admitted that there is a small risk that the Chancellor might reverse some of the excise cuts introduced at the Budget in March.

Answering questions following the WSTA's State of the Nation briefing at the London Wine Fair this morning, WSTA chief executive Miles Beale admitted it was an interesting scenario. "It is a difficult one as there is a risk that the Chancellor will undo all the good done at the last budget, because the pressures are so great. Taking it at face value, we hope it won't be," he said.

"However, we hope the risk is not that great, as the Chancellor has made excise cuts in the last three years and sees it as a consumer and business-friendly thing to do and we're seeing a return on it." It is important to remind him of that."

Earlier, he noted UK consumers had paid 3.7bn in excise duty in 2013-14, and that while the result in March had been "the best possible outcome" there was more work to be done. "We think the government is getting the message that this is unfair," he said.   

However he argued the industry needs to build on its current track record and continue to take lead on key issues, such as providing more information on calorie content, which was likely to become a key concern.

"But we need to do it in a meaningful way - what do consumers want to know? Should it be per unit, per serving or per bottle, and should this be available on bottles or via the internet, as everyone now has a smartphone."

The WSTA it is making typical calorie content for different drinks available on its website to give to give a straight-forward point of reference.  

"It shows the industry is prepared to give this information, and it makes sense to do it online," he said. "If we show leadership, there's no need for government to do anything mandatory."

Beale flagged up three other areas where the industry needs to be engaged, included threats to local licensing, the debate around sponsorship of sporting and cultural events and the possibility that there may be changes to the guide to units per week.

He warned that these issues were current and targets for the anti-alcohol lobby, which he said were  distinct from public health professionals.

Speaking about the broader wine industry, Miles Beale said the increased visitor numbers at the Fair showed confidence was returning to the UK market. 

"There has been much said about the decline of the market over the last five years, down 14% - but value rose 8% and the latest figures suggest the rate of decline is slowing and may already have stopped," he said. "It may be good news - but watch this space."

Things are beginning to change, he added. "It is a very competitive global market and there's been a 50% increase in the number of countries supplying wine to the UK".

As well as the big increase in internet sales of wine and spirits, Beale noted new funding methods being used by UK companies, including crowd-funding and angel investment. He also noted that new challenges were being met though greater consolidation within the industry. "We saw significant merger and acquistion activity last year, most notably with Bibendum and PLB Ltd."