Drinks wars start as store cuts prices

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SUPERMARKET CHAIN Sainsbury's is slashing the price of beers and wines to win pre-Christmas business from cross-Channel "booze cruises".

The company hopes that by cutting prices on lager and other goods it will persuade shoppers that hopping over to France to stock up on festive supplies is not worth the trouble. The move, which includes cuts of pounds 2 off a pack of 30 25cl Biere de Moulins lagers, is likely to trigger a price war among other supermarkets before Christmas.

At pounds 5.99, the 30-pack will still be more expensive than in France, but the supermarket says it will make cross-Channel shoppers think twice.

A spokesman said: "We are trying to show that people do not have to go to France to stock up for Christmas. Once they have paid for petrol, the ferry and everything else, they may as well stay here."

The Sainsbury's campaign is already being mirrored in promotions at Morrisons and Asda supermarkets on brands like Labatt's Ice, Tennent's Extra and Heineken Export.

Asda was today reported as being set to offer vintage Dom Perignon champagne at pounds 49.99 a bottle instead of the usual pounds 69.99. The retailing industry estimates cross-Channel sales account for 17 per cent of the beer drunk in Britain.

British-sold beer is subject to far higher duty levels than in France. Sainsbury's is backing its cheaper alcohol campaign with price cuts on turkeys and other festive foods.

t European duty-free sales were worth more than pounds 1bn to the UK last year - a 17% rise on the 1996 figure - and more than twice that for the next highest EU member - Finland. The statistics highlighted the need to fight next year's scrapping of duty-free and tax-free shopping, the Duty-Free Confederation said.