Cheers! New NZ ABC boss excited by role

New Zealand Alcohol Beverages Council executive director Virginia Nicholls is passionate about...
New Zealand Alcohol Beverages Council executive director Virginia Nicholls is passionate about working with businesses to create better communities. Photo: Linda Robertson
Dunedin's Virginia Nicholls is the new executive director of the New Zealand Alcohol Beverages Council (NZABC).

Mrs Nicholls, who will remain living in the city, was previously at the helm of the Otago Southland Employers’ Association (OSEA) for five years.

She did not apply to lead Business South, the new entity formed from the association’s merger with the Otago Chamber of Commerce.

In that role, she advocated for a wide variety of businesses at local, regional and national level, and developed an in-depth understanding of the many issues facing businesses in New Zealand.

Mrs Nicholls has experience in small, medium and large businesses across manufacturing, education and not-for-profit sectors — including senior management roles in fast-moving consumer goods companies and tertiary education — from her time as a lawyer.

The NZABC is a pan-industry group which comments publicly on matters relating to the alcohol beverage industry. It focuses on supporting responsible alcohol consumption.

Yesterday, Mrs Nicholls said she was excited about the new challenge, describing it as a "fascinating" industry which covered so many facets, including manufacturers, importers, exporters and retailers.

It was a new industry for her, although the OSEA had members from it, and she needed to get behind it and understand what the issues were.

It was a busy time with the announcement last weekend by Justice Minister Kiri Allan of a two-stage review of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act.

There was also a lot of innovation happening — Mrs Nicholls particularly liked the zero-alcohol and low-alcohol initiatives.

Consumers were wanting to have a drink but control the amount of alcohol they were having, she said.

The innovation in that area, and the flavours, were "just superb", while sustainability was another area that was being tackled.

She was passionate about working with businesses to create better communities.

"New Zealand Alcohol Beverage Council members make a positive contribution to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing, while actively encouraging responsible drinking and supporting initiatives that promote health and safety education around alcohol in Aotearoa.

"I am excited to play a role in that important work.

The Tomorrow Project - a social change charity governed by Spirits NZ, NZ Winegrowers and the Brewers Association - partnered with the Life Education Trust on Smashed, a theatre-in-education programme that included an interactive workshop for 12- and 13-year-olds.

It was important to talk to teenagers early about what alcohol did when their brains were still developing, Mrs Nicholls said.

The programme also provided practical information on what a standard drink was and counting drinks, and talked about safe drinking, binge drinking, peer pressure, better decision making, and availability of zero- and low-alcohol drinks.

Independent research showed the programme was supporting positive changes to youth drinking culture.

The evidence suggested pupils who attended the programme gained an increased awareness of how different forms of alcohol-related harm might impact them and their peers.

NZABC chairman Kevin Mapson said Mrs Nicholls’ mix of cross-sector experience and her understanding of the role of business advocacy would be a great asset.

She would play a key role in wider industry efforts to advocate for responsible drinking and sensible, evidence-based alcohol regulation, he said.