Alcohol industry welcomes lifting of alcohol sales ban, counts losses

17th August 2020 By: Donna Slater - Features Deputy Editor and Chief Photographer

Both stakeholders in the South African alcohol industry and wine industry representative organisation Vinpro have welcomed government’s decision to lift the ban on alcohol sales as part of the move to Alert Level 2, which comes into effect at midnight on Monday.

Vinpro states that the wine industry lost more than R7-billion since the introduction of sales restrictions at the end of March.

MD Rico Basson states that although Vinpro is grateful to start trading and delivering online sales again, the organisation is “dismayed” at the extent of the damage caused to its industry during the temporary ban on exports and extended restrictions on local sales.

“It might be too little too late. Many wine businesses have already closed down and a long road to recovery lies ahead for the industry as a whole.”

Following the initial nine-week ban on local sales, the five-week ban on exports and second domestic sales ban, Vinpro estimates that more than 80 wineries and 350 wine grape producers would go out of business over the next 18 months, with a potential loss of more than 21 000 jobs across the value chain.

South African Liquor Brandowners Association (Salba) CEO Kurt Moore says the alcohol industry and business representatives support President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call “to put in place the practices and forms of behaviour that we must continue to adopt for some time to come”.

Moore points out that alcohol industry stakeholders had met with Health Minister Zweli Mkhize during the second week of August to discuss lifting the ban, as well as aspects related to enhancing the social compact between the industry, government and civil society/community. During these discussions, he says the industry acknowledged the challenges facing the government in its efforts to stem the pandemic.

Going forward, Moore says the alcohol industry is now looking forward to working across the value chain to ensure the sector is able to begin to rebuild and to make its valuable contribution to the revival of South Africa’s economy.

“The liquor industry confirmed it is willing to ensure enhanced resources, including funds, people and time, are available to assist the government in dealing with the burden on the public healthcare system,” he says.

This, says Moore, will also help ease the pressure on healthcare facilities and assist with the distribution of personal protective equipment, leveraging the industry’s extensive distribution and retail networks nationwide in support of efforts to combat the spread of Covid-19.

“We also reiterate our commitment to work with the government to implement health and safety protocols addressing Covid-19 transmission risks across the value chain and ensure that the industry reopens safely and efficiently.”

National Liquor Traders Council convener Lucky Ntimane says the council’s network of 34 000 taverners across the country is ready to get back to business. “We will continue to roll out innovations such as the ‘click-and-collect’ applications to help reduce queues, improve physical distancing and make it safer for consumers to order and collect their purchases.”

Basson says the alcohol industry is committed to ramping up its social awareness programmes and behavioural change interventions. “These efforts include vigorous responsible messaging and a mass communication campaign aimed at helping communities in the fight against the spread of Covid-19.”

Meanwhile, Vinpro has been working closely with industry partners on a disaster recovery plan to address the urgent need to stabilise the sector, including the extension of further excise relief for the current year, as well as the 2021 season, addressing bottlenecks and challenges at the Cape Town port and formulating solutions to reduce a current wine surplus of around 300-million litres. 

“The wine industry is geared to reopen domestic trade and distribution with all necessary health and safety regulations in place, while focusing on changing behaviour with regard to responsible production, promotion, trade and consumption.”

He adds that the industry reiterates its commitment to partner with the government to create a social compact that drives behavioural change regarding the use and consumption of alcohol.

“We call for the establishment of a national multi-stakeholder forum with government and civil society to focus on identifying and prioritising problem areas, based on research and credible current data, and jointly designing interventions targeting these key areas with enhanced current programmes and new measurable and evidence-based initiatives.”

Beer Association of South Africa CEO Patricia Pillay, says the association “absolutely understands that the government was caught between a rock and a hard place” of trying to attain a balance between saving lives and protecting livelihoods.

“We will work with all stakeholders to ensure the sector gets back on its feet, that social awareness programmes around harm reduction are ramped up, and that we start the process of rebuilding the country’s economy.”