Booze ban 'significant penalty' for Countdown

Supermarket giant Countdown says the loss of its central Dunedin alcohol licence for three days is a ''learning experience for the business''.

It was confirmed yesterday Countdown's central Dunedin store would be banned from selling alcohol for three days next month, after offering illegally discounted alcohol as part of a nationwide promotion.

The ruling by the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority was released to the Otago Daily Times yesterday.

A Countdown spokeswoman said the company acknowledged its ''mistake'' and had a ''responsibility when selling alcohol to do so with care''.

The ruling meant General Distributors Ltd, which holds off licences for 175 supermarkets, would have its off licence for the Countdown central Dunedin store suspended from 7am on September 7 to 7am on September 10.

The company had twice offered discounts on wine in a way that was likely to lead people to believe a discount of 25% or more was available - an offence under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

The authority had been told the discounts were offered on two occasions earlier this year.

In the first, on February 23, discounts of up to 38% were available when ''Onecard'' loyalty deals were combined with an extra discount offered to people buying more than six bottles of wine.

The supermarket was contacted about the breach, but overstepped again when it offered further discounts of up to 27% between May 18 and 24.

Dunedin City Council licensing inspector Tony Mole said if the advertising material was available nationwide, then each of General Distributors' 175 licences could be subject to a suspension, as well as higher licence renewal fees in future, the ruling said.

Instead, the Countdown's Cumberland St store was ''effectively taking responsibility for the entire group'', he said.

The 72 hour suspension would be a ''significant penalty'' for one store, and would also ''place the rest of the industry on notice'', he said.

General Distributors accepted the ruling, although, through its legal counsel, it argued it was the first breach for the Cumberland St store and co operation had avoided the need for a hearing.

The company had also undertaken a ''thorough review'' of its marketing procedures, and implemented additional measures to avoid any repeat.

That included a ban on ''two price point'' advertising in future, the ruling said.

The suspension counted as a ''negative holding'' against General Distributors, and could be followed by a licence cancellation application if three were accrued within three years.

A Countdown spokeswoman said the company took its responsibilities for selling alcohol ''very seriously''.

''Mistakes do occasionally happen but very rarely, and we understand that where we get it wrong there are serious consequences.''

-chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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