During the COVID-19 pandemic South Africa reduced the availability of alcohol as a measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The government employed temporary alcohol sales bans. Three temporary bans were implemented, with the last one ending on February 2, 2021. All three alcohol sales bans led to substantial reductions in alcohol harm, specifically in hospital trauma cases, road traffic accidents and violence and helped to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The alcohol industry vehemently opposed the temporary bans citing sales revenue losses. However, Big Alcohol has spent big on actually opening even more liquor stores in an aggressive attempt to increase alcohol availability in the country. Supermarket alcohol stores have become a major source of profits for the alcohol industry. The following supermarket liquor store chains increased their number of liquor stores during COVID-19.
- Spar’s TOPS liquor stores have increased even though the company does not disclose a number. The chain’s total liquor stores in South Africa amounts to 891.
- Shoprite Group has opened 17 new liquor stores and has a total of 541 stores.
- Pick n Pay has opened 23 new liquor stores with a total of 506 stores. The company also owns Boxer which opened 17 new liquor stores bringing the total liquor stores of Boxer to 87.
There is ample evidence showing that higher alcohol outlet density means increased alcohol harm, such as more violence, increased hospital admissions with alcohol withdrawal, and higher adolescent alcohol use.
Big Alcohol has been exploiting the lack of alcohol regulations in South Africa and the wider region to make inroads and push a Western alcohol norm – in countries where the majority of adults do not consume alcohol – in the African region.
The recent expansions in liquor stores in South Africa despite the ongoing health crisis bears evidence to the industry’s aim of pushing everyone to buy more and more alcohol despite the harm it causes to South African communities.