Alcohol industry crushed by extension of Covid-19 sales ban

Agri SA believes that government should have, at least, considered online alcohol sales while Vinpro describes the extended ban as ‘a devastating blow’. SAB is set to drag government to court soon

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A devastating blow. This is how Vinpro MD Rico Basson described pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of an extended alcohol sales ban to limit trauma cases at hospitals in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Taking to Twitter, Basson said there were “more reasonable alternatives” than a fourth blanket ban on retail alcohol sales and on-site consumption.

Rico Basson, the managing director of Vinpro. Photo: Supplied
Rico Basson, the managing director of Vinpro. Photo: Supplied

“This is a devastating blow for our wine industry that is already in a dire situation after an 18-week domestic ban. With significant stock levels, (the) probability (is) high that (the) full harvest cannot be crushed.”

Earlier, Vinpro warned that the previous two alcohol sales bans had a devastating impact on the wine industry with a loss of more than R7.5 billion in sales revenue, significant job losses and a number of wineries and tourism facilities being forced to shut their doors.

Subsequently, the wine industry already had more than 250 million litres of uncontracted wine, with the 2021 harvest having just begun. This places further strain on 533 wineries’ already dire financial position.

Vinpro is seeking legal advice on the controversial liquor sales ban, confirmed Basson after a Western Cape-based viticulturist, Jaco Engelbrecht, implored the wine industry to take a stand against government.

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Meanwhile Agri SA’s executive director, Christo van der Rheede, warned that the prohibition on alcohol sales will only fuel illegal sales.

In a strong-worded statement issued late on Monday evening, Van der Rheede said, “Why not allow online sales of alcohol? And why not allow wine farms to continue with wine tasting and wine sales? The responsible use of wine and alcohol is advocated by the liquor industry as they are required by law to do so.”

Christo van der Rheede, the executive director at Agri SA. Photo: Supplied
Christo van der Rheede, the executive director at Agri SA. Photo: Supplied

Van der Rheede too warned that a blanket booze ban will have “an extremely negative economic impact on the industry. Cabinet should rather work with the alcohol industry to launch a strategy to establish a culture that promotes the responsible use of alcohol. The impact of a total ban will completely destroy the economic contribution of the alcohol industry.”

He said that there were many strategies to keep the wine industry going while protecting jobs. “But it requires greater cooperation and exchange of ideas. Therefore, please listen to the plea of the sector. Please, Mr President.”

Meanwhile the country’s biggest beer brewer, the AB InBev-owned SAB, reiterated that “as a registered juristic entity, SAB is entitled to certain rights under the Constitution. SAB is of the view that the current regulations prohibiting the sale, dispensing and distribution of liquor constitute an unjustifiable infringement of these rights.”

Wendy Pienaar, chairperson of Craft Beer Association of South Africa.
Wendy Pienaar, CEO of the Craft Beer Association of South Africa. Photo: Supplied

In his televised address, Ramaphosa did not indicate a specific date for the end of the alcohol sales ban.

Instead, the president said, “Health services in several parts of the country reported that the prohibition of alcohol sales had significantly reduced the number of trauma cases seen in our hospitals over the New Year period. It is vital that we continue to protect our health services at this crucial time.”

Furthermore, the Beer Association of South Africa (Basa) is disappointed in Ramaphosa’s announcement. Basa earlier called on the president to urgently lift the blanket ban on alcohol sales.
“This is imperative to ensure the survival of small business owners of craft breweries, who now find themselves on the brink of closure,” warned Wendy Pienaar, CEO of the Craft Beer Association of South Africa.
Basa comprises the Craft Brewers Association of South Africa, Heineken South Africa and South African Breweries.
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