The "alcopop" bubble could be on its way to bursting after the Co-op yesterday became the first major supermarket group to ban the sale of the controversial alcoholic soft drinks. The company said it would remove the drinks from the shelves on Monday.
Calling on other stores to follow suit, the Co-op said it had made the decision following growing concern over the popularity of alcopops among under-age drinkers.
The Co-op said: "As a responsible retailer, we feel the time has come to act. We believe these drinks are designed specifically to appeal to young people and are, in fact, consumed by under-18s who cannot legally buy them."
More than 18 brands will be moved from the shelves of the Co-operative Retail group's 1,200 licensed stores. They include brands such as Hooper's Hooch, Two Dogs, Shotts Lemon Jag and Stunn Blackcurrant Blitz.
The move comes a day after the Health Secretary Frank Dobson said manufacturers of the drinks were "a disgrace" and threatened a blanket ban. He accused the manufacturers of deliberately trying "to get children hooked on booze".
Other retailers were considering their position yesterday. Sainsbury's said it had no immediate plans to stop selling the drinks. However, it said that it had decided two weeks ago to phase out its own alcoholic lemon drink.
The Co-op's decision was welcomed by Alcohol Concern, which has called for tougher controls on the sale of the drinks. "It is not the kind of action they will have taken lightly and if a proper system of regulation was in place they wouldn't have to do it."
Drinks companies which distribute alcopops defended their products and said the Co-op actions did not mean the beginning of the end of alcopops.
Alcopop producers admitted that Co-op's decision could produce a domino effect which would see all the major supermarkets banning the products. But they said under-age drinking would not go away just because of ban.
The Portman group, the watchdog set up by the drinks industry said the Co-op had gone further than it was looking for.
Alcopops have proved hugely successful since they were first introduced into Britain two years ago. The market is worth around pounds 250-300m a year and though sales growth has slowed manufacturers are still introducing new brands.
The Government has taken a tough stance on the drinks. The duty on the drinks was increased by 40 per cent in the last budget. Last month, the new government announced an "urgent" investigation in to the sale of alcopops as a new survey revealed that six out of 10 children drunk them. A judge had condemned the drinks the previous day after hearing that a 14-year-old got drunk on alcoholic lemonade and cider and burned down a school.
There was an outcry in April following the launch of alcoholic milk drinks with names such as Moo and Super Milch.
The Co-op has often adopted an the ethical stance on consumer issues and the Co-op Bank has built its reputation on its ethical trading position. Last month the bank said responsible retailers would stop selling cigarettes in the 21st century.
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