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Supermarket bulk-buy ban might be a Good Thing for wine merchants, mightn't it?

There's been a some hullabaloo in the papers lately about supermarket bulk-buy wine discounts.

David Cameron's coalition government allegedly wants to put some sort of a ban on supermarkets (and big multiples) selling large quantities of wine at a discount.

The purported aim is to stop incentivising shoppers putting more wine into their trolleys than they truly need.

We've all been there, even if not always for wine (in fact, I tend to do this for bottles of ale). Only yesterday, I was in the breakfast cereal aisle at my local supermarket looking for our usual own-brand muesli. It's not the best in the business but it fills a hole and doesn't cost the earth. Yet still I was drawn to the Quakers healthy granola (30 to 50 per cent less fat than most granolas!), one of my choicest guilty pleasures. Why? It had a multi-buy discount.

Sometimes multi-buy discounts are hugely beneficial, especially to big families feeding many hungry mouths. I shudder to think of the cost of a weekly shop for a family of four these days.

However, I'm very unsure about multi-buy discounts for wine. The supermarkets control around eighty per cent of the British wine market. What they do matters. It is hard enough for independent wine merchants as it is, without supermarkets peddling wine at impossibly low prices. Many of those discounts have to be loss-leaders, and that's easy enough to do when you make a tidy profit on the ready-made vol-au-vents in the freezer aisle.

On the other hand, I'm uncomfortable about any government micromanaging our eating and drinking habits. Moreover, governments that set prices for private companies are distorting the marketplace, and not always  for the better.

Yet there's an argument that actually the supermarkets, with their enormous influence, spread and purchasing power, are really the ones distorting the market in wine. Merchants pay producers a fair price for well-made wine, only to be undercut by supermarkets peddling tanker loads of plonk at bargain-basement prices. Because they can.

Maybe that's just the old invisible hand talking, but unlike the damagingly high duty rates, this is a piece of government meddling that I'm not necessarily averse to.

All the same, I'm quite happy for now. I've got a couple of weeks worth of discounted granola to enjoy.

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