Beers below 5% abv may receive lighter treatment

Beers below 5% abv may receive lighter treatment

Brewers with beers below 5% abv may escape some of the most stringent Government proposals to curb alcohol sales and promotions in Russia, as the drinks industry prepares for tough measures in the country in 2010.

Warning labels, shorter selling hours and advertising curbs are all proposals put forward by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev to tackle alcohol misuse in the country.

The plans have yet to be enshrined in a formal bill to go before Russia's parliament, the State Duma, but it would be considered highly unusual for presidential proposals to be ignored.

Drinks industry sources expect a bill to emerge within weeks, just-drinks understands, as the Russian Government widens its battle against a trend towards excess drinking described as a "scourge" on the nation by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Further sales restrictions may hit brewers particularly hard, following a three-fold rise in beer excise duty in Russia as of 1 January.

But beers below 5% abv could receive an easier ride. Tougher advertising laws and a ban on drinks sales in kiosks - collectively grouped as 'non-permanent outlets' - would only be applied to drinks above the 5% threshold, according to current proposals.

Carlsberg, which owns Russia's leading brewer, Baltika Breweries, would largely escape such measures. "Most of our beers in Russia are below 5%," a Carlsberg spokesperson told just-drinks today (19 January).

"We take all these proposals seriously, but until they become more concrete - until they might become law - we are not able to comment further on them," the spokesperson said.

He added that Carlsberg, which has a 40% share of Russia's beer market, "is preparing for all scenarios".

Carlsberg CEO, Jorgen Buhl Rasmussen, said in December that the Denmark-based brewer remains committed to Russia. "We still believe that medium- to long-term this is going to be a growth market," he said.

Aside from sales restrictions, Russia's Government is planning a mass information campaign to change drinking habits across the country.

It has already set a minimum price on vodka of RUB89 ($3) per 0.5 litres, effective from 1 January.