Loretto: Ken you were talking a little bit there about new laws by the government to control and I suppose to make money on the sale of liquor and alcohol. When did all that start, is that new or what is that all about?
Ken : Well basically what has happened in the last four or five years in Ireland there has been a big focus on certain issues, whether they be anti-social behavior, whether it is people turning up at A&E’s in hospitals because they have drank too much on a night out, they are playing political football and they are getting plenty of air time out of it, but what has happened is that the New health minister is pushing through a new health bill and it is going to control the licensing in Ireland, regarding am, who is going to be able to sell alcohol and am when they are going to be able to sell alcohol. Its political football at the moment, it’s really being kicked around and given bad press. And unfortunately it is the 10% who have a problem with alcohol who are getting most of the pity, the other percent of the people don’t. And I think they are the ones who are going to suffer from it, you know?
Loretto: Is it because of the election year or is it because….?
Ken: I don’t think it is, the election was last year. I am not really sure. Four years ago, there was a groceries order (Law passed) it was in place. The previous government decided to abolish the groceries order which allowed the big multiple grocery markets to basically go nuts! Selling, you know? Using alcohol as a loss leader. In it is such a case that a can of beer now is cheaper than a bottle of water in Ireland. And that has created its own problems you know? And I think they are trying to reign in that monster if you know what I mean? Because when supermarkets use below cost selling, the government, like I was telling Kevin, they are subsidizing the below cost selling because the supermarkets can claim back the VAT (Value Added Tax) on their sales, so the government was subsidizing the below cost selling by 21%. And they are trying to close all these loop holes and am, you know just tighten up the whole thing, making it difficult you know, I think for the industry, but there implications on that. Young people are over exposed to alcohol in my view between sports, advertising sport and am advertising on TV etc, etc. I can see it; I can see it here in the store with young people coming in. I think they are drinking hard liquor, you know, in my own view, as a member of the Off-License Association of Ireland we make suggestions, we lobby the minister but I think the opinion is, if they don’t think of the idea, the idea is not going to be put in place you know?
Loretto: And there is an age that you are allowed to start drinking in Ireland. Do they require that Liquor stores and pubs require these young people to show Identification?
Ken: Absolutely, we are very strict about that Loretta, ah? I am twenty three years in this business and I know young kids what they are like. Fifteen, sixteen, it is glamorized. They see celebrities drinking you know? They want to act older than they are, they want to grow up too quick, so they are always going to try and get alcohol. The biggest problem in Ireland is, and I am sure everywhere else, is secondary purchasing, you know? Which you can’t control. If someone has got the legal age of eighteen and they’ve got the ID to go with it, you are obliged to serve them, unfortunately what is happening is that they are buying alcohol for their younger brother, cousin, a friend, and you know that’s what happens.
Loretto: That is the norm over here too so basically you
have someone who is of age buying for an underage drinker.
Ken: Yeah, of age. That’s a big problem. To be honest with you we made suggestions to the minister that they should come down harder on these guys, they should maybe do some entrapments or try to do a sting operation and catch these guys who are buying the alcohol for the younger generation. And publicly admonish them and humiliate them. Embarrass them for getting caught doing it, but at the moment it is almost a laissez faire attitude. “Ah sure look! Everyone does that.”
Loretto: Now since the recession officially began have you noticed a difference in the number of people coming into your store as opposed to going to the pub?
Ken: Negatively would be my response to that Loretto, ah? The biggest problem for Kinsale and a lot of pubs around rural Ireland has been emigration. And your customer base has been eroded away in the last four years because people have left, and I mean to the tune of 70,000 people a year, between the age groups of 18-25 are leaving Ireland. Every year. That attached to all the guys in construction, ie: Europeans, they did all their drinking at home, they didn’t socialize in bars, and all those guys have left as well. It has left a big down turn in the last four years. And between all the downward pressure on pricing, because of the groceries order and the explosion of competition from European discount stores, German discount stores, they’ve all come into Ireland and created competition. So it’s tough. A bit of a decline as opposed to an increase. They all say, you must be doing well, people are all drinking at home, and I respond, yeah, there’s a lot more people drinking at home, but a lot more people have left the country as well. Funnily enough and ironically enough my last years’ turnover was exactly the same as the previous years’, but I did about ten thousand more transactions, so people are spending way less as well.
Loretto: Yeah, so they are buying, but they are not buying the big priced stuff.
Ken: Their spending is way down!
Loretto: Yeah, Is it cheaper for them to buy at a liquor store than go to a pub nowadays?
Ken: Absolutely. You can buy a bottle of ah, Miller for maybe 70 cents, in an off-license and the same bottle of Miller would cost you four Euros and fifty at the bar.
Loretto: Right, wow!
Ken: And on top of that, combined would be the smoking ban as well. That really has put a lot of pressure on the pubs As well as that there’s the cultural change, the people are no longer happy to just sit in the pub and drink all night. They are looking for more of an all-round experience. They want to have food, maybe some entertainment you know? So the restaurants are busier. Definitely bars are a lot quieter.
Loretto: Oh wow! So restaurants would be taking the business from the bars.
Ken : Yeah, I think the restaurants are, you know they’ve got comfortable surroundings, I mean they have music going on in the background, they are doing a lot better than the straight traditional Irish pub that has serving drink that might have a bit of music on.
Loretto: Do you think that we are witnessing the end of the Irish pub?
Ken: I would 100% say yeah, we are. I mean in Kinsale alone there was about six bars closed last year, and it’s a small town. It was a bog industry in the town, and I would say that there’s probably another two to three bars going to close again this year.
Loretto: Wow, That’s pretty sad because that is a cultural icon that is coming to an end.
Ken: Well it’s important a lot of these places were social outlets, it was a meeting place, it was a lot more than a public house that just served alcohol. A place to meet friends and relatives catch up with the news, that sort of stuff and the goal on that was alcohol. But along with that there has been a decrease in the drink driving limit they have it down to about 50mls per unit of blood, blood unit of alcohol.
Loretto: And what does that mean Ken, what is 10mls roughly? Is it a pint of Guinness?
Ken: It’s less than a pint, it’s about three quarters of a pint, would have you over the limit. And as well as that they have check points early in the mornings. So a guy goes out the night before, being responsible, he takes a taxi home, he’s not driving, he goes to bed. Gets up to go to work in the morning maybe at seven thirty and is stopped and bagged, breathalysed.
Loretto: So even the day after?
Ken: The day after, it’s incredible what’s going on. And this is the next morning, maybe the guy could have finished drinking at 12 o’clock the previous night, gone home to bed. He might have had five or six pints, before his body has even enough time to process the alcohol, and he gets up and get’s into the car six hours later and he’s breathalysed, he can be put off the road basically, you know?
Loretto: Wow! And it’s kind of ironic in a way that the government is cracking down in a way with the prices and the control, the regulation of alcohol and yet, the supermarkets, you called it the Groceries order, am I right?
Ken: Yeah, correct the groceries order.
Loretto: So basically you can buy a bottle of beer for cheaper than a bottle of water?
Ken: Yeah, you can buy a can of unbranded beer for 79 cent. Or half a liter.
Loretto: And that exists because of the loop hole where they can claim back the VAT and all that?
Ken: Absolutely, because it is downward pressure. Because of the ban on the groceries order, they are using alcohol as their loss leader. You could open any Sunday paper today, just open the second page and you’ll see all the top multiple supermarkets advertising alcohol. It is ironic, you know. You’d have a front page headline from a national paper saying that we are a nation of drunks and that we need to cop ourselves on and we need social responsibility and then you open the next page and they are taking advertising money from supermarkets that are selling cheap alcohol.
Loretto: That’s unbelievable, unbelievable.
Ken: It’s unreal, if you weren’t sober it would be funny, Loretta.
Loretto: Now, how long have you been in the business Ken?
Ken: Personally here in Kinsale, I am here nearly nine years now, but working in the off-license trade in Ireland since I was twelve, so 31 years.
Loretto: And Kinsale is very much a tourist town, over the last nine years, between everything that has happened you have seen big changes.
Ken : I have seen a huge change, ah, there’s been a whole load of financial stuff going on worldwide, so in Kinsale it does affect our business, and there’s definitely been a contraction, the American market is very important to Kinsale. They stopped travelling a few years back but, also in England and in Europe they’re the same, their very important and again, they’re feeling the pinch. Things are not running, you know? There’s less people travelling, and in saying that, there’s more of our own people staying at home. We’re not travelling abroad as much, but the spending is way down. When they come to Kinsale you know, they want a cheap room, they may not go to a bar, they might come to my shop, buy a bottle of wine, go back to the hotel room, then go out later on for a drink, something like that. You know? The spending money is way, way down.
Loretto: Do you see an end to all of this or no?
Ken: Am? I think we’re going to bounce along the bottom for the next couple of years. I am hoping like I said to you earlier in the conversation, our turnover last year was pretty much the same as the previous year, so hopefully we’ve reached the bottom and we’ll probably bounce around for I would say nearly five years.
Loretto: OK, well Thanks very much Ken. It’s been an interesting conversation. We’ll hopefully pop into see you the next time we are in Kinsale.