Pernod Ricard CEO: Alcohol tax ‘penalises’ responsible consumers

Ricard: "The online labelling is extremely efficient because it gives us enough space to really detail the information we want." [EURACTIV]

The decision to raise excise taxes on alcohol “penalises” the majority of consumers who drink responsibly, while those who have issues with alcohol will be unaffected as they will keep on drinking excessively, Alexandre Ricard told in an interview.

For Ricard, the key is to fully inform those consumers, in a timely and smart manner, about the consequences of excessive alcohol drinking.

Alexandre Ricard is the chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard.

He spoke to EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos on the sidelines of an event on smart alcohol prevention on 24 January.  

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The alcohol industry will have to come up with a self-regulatory proposal on labelling. How would you describe your talks with the other industries?

We are in touch with the entire industry and we are all aligned with the fact that we need to be fully transparent with our consumers regarding the ingredients, the nutrition of our products.

I think it’s a good thing because people need to know what they are having. So yes, this is clear.

What will be the future role of online labelling? Do you believe it will be an effective measure to reach and inform all consumers?

The online labelling is extremely efficient because basically, that’s the way tomorrow everybody will get information. It gives us enough space to really detail the information we want and at the end of the day, the key point is to give as close information as can be useful to the consumer in terms of units etc.

100% of our international products already provide information online.

Could online labelling be accessible to all? For young people, I can understand it. But is this the case for older ages as well?

What do you mean by ‘older age groups’?

People who are not that familiar with technology.

What age?

I don’t know, 60 years old?

The people I know that are above 60 are all now online. I would even have another argument, if I may say so. Older age groups have – and even I start having – issues with reading, but on a mobile, it’s easy by zooming in and so on.

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What could the European Commission or the industry do in order to convince NGOs to come back to the Health Forum table?

First of all, we need to show that what we are doing works. For instance, The Responsible Party partnership we have with Erasmus Students Network is the perfect example of an outcome of that Forum that works, that has an impact. The research results are there to show it. I am a big believer in a constructive approach, which means that the Forum has to be inclusive.

I like inclusiveness and construction. I do not like exclusiveness and opposition. I think that if we all agree on the objective which is to really get to responsibility then we can work together with tangible results. The more we have best practices, the more we show that we walk the walk, and we are open. I do believe we are credible ourselves as an industry player because we know our product. And we are aware of the harm our product can have if it’s misused or abused of. We acknowledge it.

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Is your industry prepared for a hard Brexit?

If tomorrow there were to be an extremely hard Brexit with entry barriers from both ways, then I think all the export-led industries will have issues.

I rely on the intelligence of all politicians from both sides of the equation to come to a solution. So far it looks like it goes in the right direction. Hopefully, it will.

The spirits industry has expressed its dissatisfaction with the high excise tax levels. Public health NGOs and associations claim that it has brought results in the health field but the financial impact is still unclear. What is your position?

First of all, if you believe that by raising taxes the issue of alcohol abuse will be addressed, the answer is I do not believe this is the case. What are you doing, is making the products more expensive for the vast majority of people who consume responsibly. And the minority of people who have issues with alcohol they will still keep on drinking. This goes to back to my point that we really need to address these people specifically and show them why they should drink responsibly.

In addition, the more you increase the excise taxes, the more you penalise those consumers who don’t have issues with excessive drinking and also foster the development of illicit trade.

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