MidCentral Health wants a Palmerston North supermarket to tuck its alcohol cartons out of sight.
The Palmerston North District Licensing Committee held a hearing on Wednesday to test whether it should impose conditions on Melody’s New World’s proposed new alcohol area.
The law has changed since the supermarket’s licence was last reviewed, so it now has to restrict liquor displays and marketing to a single alcohol area.
Owner Kerry Melody has proposed the current open alcohol area would be substantially closed in with display cabinets, apart from gaps for access.
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He said the display cabinets facing out toward the body of the supermarket would contain non-alcohol products.
But medical officer of health Rob Weir wants the store to go further, and not have alcohol cartons positioned on the aisle ends at the entrance to the single alcohol area.
“You might not be able to see the bottles of wine, but you will see the printing on the boxes that indicates what is in the box.”
Weir said that was a problem, as the labelling on the boxes counted as promotion or advertising that was within arm’s length of shoppers passing from the chilled foods part of the supermarket toward the checkouts.
He suggested those shelving ends should either be covered, or used for display of products other than alcohol.
Melody said using the entrance to the alcohol area for other products would open the door to “cross-merchandising”, which was something the law intended to avoid.
It could mean flowers or chocolates could be on display on the way into the alcohol area, inviting children and adults who did not intend to buy alcohol into the area.
Melody’s lawyer Iain Thain said the condition Weir wanted would be unreasonable.
He said the committee could only impose conditions that related to the goals of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act.
That was to ensure that the sale, supply, and consumption of alcohol should be undertaken safely and responsibly, and that the harm caused by the excessive or inappropriate consumption of alcohol should be minimised.
It should not impose conditions that related to limiting, so far as was reasonably practicable, the exposure of shoppers in supermarkets and grocery stores to displays and promotions of alcohol, and advertisements for alcohol.
Any condition the committee imposed had to be proportionate, and based on evidence.
He said there was no evidence that cartons positioned at ends of aisles would lead to any excessive or inappropriate alcohol consumption, or that removing them would lead to a reduction in alcohol harm.
Any gains would be only marginal, he said.
Thain said it would not be a proportionate response to effectively make the alcohol area smaller.
“The shopper would still see the alcohol and know it was there.”
Some supermarkets around New Zealand had accepted restrictions on “capping” ends of aisles to make alcohol displays less visible, but Thain said that had been done by agreement, not through formal hearings.
Thain said the committee had the power to insist the alcohol area could be smaller than what the supermarket proposed, “but I say you do not have good reason to do that”.
The police and district licensing inspectors did not oppose granting the licence renewal.
The hearing panel chaired by Susan Baty, with committee members Tangi Utikere and Vicki Beagley, adjourned the hearing to make their decision in private.