If you want to sell or supply alcohol for consumption off premises you will be required to apply for the grant of an off–licence from your District Licensing Committee. Examples of off–licence premises include supermarkets, grocery stores and bottle stores.

Under the previous Sale Of Liquor Act 1989, some dairies and convenience stores were granted a licence to sell alcohol. The kind of premises for which off-licences may be issued is now more restrictive. Under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012, shops within shops, dairies, petrol stations and convenience stores may no longer sell alcohol. Such stores have had their off-licences expire by 18 December 2014 and precluded from renewing or obtaining a new licence unless they change their business model to comply with the new legislation.

The intention of the new legislation is to restrict rather than permit the proliferation of off-licence premises and limit the exposure of shoppers to displays and promotions and advertising of alcohol inside those premises.

The Act provides comprehensive criteria the District Licensing Committee must have regard to for the issue of a licence and the onus is on the applicant to meet all the criteria to a civil standard of the balance of probabilities.

Applicants bear an onus to prove that the issue of the proposed off-licence is unlikely to reduce the amenity and good order of the locality in which the premises is situated, to more than a minor extent. A successful applicant will demonstrate an awareness of proximity to potentially sensitive areas of the community (such as schools libraries etc.) and to other existing off-licence holders.

Contested applications for a licence are applications that are opposed by licensing inspectors, Medical Officers of Health, Police (Agencies) or where objections have been received from members of the public. A contested application will be heard and determined at a hearing before a District Licensing Committee.

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 provides that grocery stores that mainly sell food products may sell alcohol if they have an off-licence.

Section 33 of the Act defines a grocery shop as a shop that-

(a) has the characteristics normally associated with shops commonly thought of as grocery shops; and (b) comprises premises where – (i) a range of food products and other household items is sold; but (ii) the principal business carried on is or will be the sale of food products.

Section 33 also defines “food product” and “ready to eat prepared food “and “snack food.” The definition of “food product” does not include convenience foods (for example confectionery, ready to eat takeaways and snack food).

Where it is not clear that the primary purpose of the business is that of a grocery store, there is a risk of opposition to the application from one or more of the Agencies. The applicant will be expected to provide evidence of accounts for sales. While there is no hard and fast rule it has been suggested that around 50% of grocery sales taken should be food and household goods to support a conclusion the premises meets the criteria under section 33 for a grocery store.

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 has resulted in a tightening of the criteria. An off-licence provides the opportunity for a grocery store to increase business turnover. Applications for the granting of an off-licence, in particular contested applications that will be considered by a District Licensing Committee, require careful preparation with due attention to the legislative requirements.

This post was published in the FMCG Business magazine