The great British booze cruise could be over


It seems the traditional British booze cruise could be sunk following news that three major British retailers are closing their premises in northern France.

British shoppers no longer regard catching the ferry across the Channel to stock up on wine and beer as a cheap option, according to an industry report.

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The spending power of sterling against the euro has plunged by a quarter in just three years, and with many supermarkets in the UK offering cheap alcohol, the hypermarkets of North-West France are losing their bargain basement appeal.

The recent recession has exaggerated this trend, and alcohol retailers in Calais said business had been ‘dead’ in the lead-up to last Christmas, traditionally one of the busiest periods of the year.

Now three major outlets that capitalised on Britain’s thirst for booze cruises are expected to close, says the report by The Grocer magazine. Staff at Tesco Vin Plus in Calais have been consulted over a closure, while Sainsbury’s is to shut down its Calais Wine Store at the end of the month after describing its partnership with the French retailer Auchan as no longer ‘economically viable’.

A third large outlet, Oddbins Calais, closed earlier this year and the company has confirmed its franchise agreement had come to an end.

Yesterday a Sainsbury’s spokesman said: ‘Sainsbury’s and Auchan have made the difficult decision to close Sainsbury’s Calais.

‘Thirteen colleagues have been informed that their jobs are at risk and will be offered redeployment opportunities by the co-shareholders.’

The store is now advising that customers call before heading to the Calais outlet and has cancelled online ordering there as stock is limited.

This week another major retailer, Majestic Wine, blamed the relative strength of the euro for a 28 per cent fall in sales for the year to the end of March in its three northern France stores.

However it said it would stay in France, claiming the difference in duty was still wide enough to attract savvy shoppers.

But Nick and Ann Lewis, from Chelmsford, Essex, are not so sure. The couple visited Calais in December-but on the way back from another destination, rather than making a special trip.

Mr Lewis, a retired health and safety worker, said: ‘The exchange rate has killed it. We used to come over here about three times a year, but it’s hardly worth it any more.

By the time you work out how much you’ve spent getting here you’re hardly saving any money.’

In March, Oddbins boss Simon Baile predicted a ‘complete revolution’ in the number and size of stores in Calais, with hypermarkets almost empty even at peak times.

Luis Da Silva, manager of the East-Enders shop in Calais, said last year: ‘We are dead here. There are still some excellent deals, far better than you could get in Britain, but I think the perception is that it’s not worth the money because the savings are not as great as they were a few years ago.