SABMiller hires Bell Pottinger Public Affairs to fight minimum pricing

The world's second largest brewer is bringing in extra lobbying muscle as the minimum pricing net closes in on the drinks industry in the UK.

Premium lager: SABMiller's beer brands include Grolsch
Premium lager: SABMiller's beer brands include Grolsch

British drinks firm SABMiller has hired Bell Pottinger Public Affairs to help it negotiate with the Government over its minimum unit pricing, which it believes will harm the brand’s status as a premium drinks firm.

The brewer, which owns brands Peroni, Grolsch and Pilsner Urquell, is fighting the plans as it believes minimum pricing legislation could force the firm to increase its own prices alongside those of cheaper beer brands.

The brief, seen by PRWeek, calls on the agency to focus on the UK’s alcohol regulatory environment, specifically mentioning ‘excise tax, beer duty escalator and minimum pricing’ as key concerns.

The agency is expected to lobby key members of Commons committees such as the home affairs and health select committees against the plans.

The brief, worth a significant six-figure sum, is expected to be BPPA’s biggest money account following Bell Pottinger Private’s split from Chime last month.

BPPA MD Stephen Lotinga said: ‘There is an enormous amount going on in the brewing sector and we’re determined to ensure that SABMiller’s voice is heard.’

Brunswick formerly handled SABMiller’s alcohol policy account, which PRWeek revealed was being opened up for pitch last August.

The alcohol industry has unified against proposals to introduce legislation that would see a minimum unit price of 40p, as part of a wider strategy to tackle the country's alcohol-related issues.

The SABMiller account will be headed by Lotinga, with chairman of BPPA Tim Collins providing strategic advice.

Brunswick formerly supported SABMiller around UK alcohol policy, but the pair parted ways last August.

SABMiller UK government relations manager Christine Thompson said: ‘Bell Pottinger impressed us with their strategic, detailed and well-informed response to our brief.’

Industry under fire

The Scotch Whisky Association this week lodged a complaint with the EC against minimum pricing.

The Home Office, which is aiming to introduce a floor price by October 2014 , is preparing a report on the impact on the UK drinks industry.

The Commons health committee has backed the plans to combat the ‘insidious and pervasive’ impact of binge drinking. However, industry bodies have branded the plans ‘damaging’ and ‘ineffective’.

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