Retail Drinks Australia’s focus for 2019

26 February, 2019 by Deborah Jackson

There is no doubting the importance of 2018 for Retail Drinks Australia, after it saw the development of a new structure, transformed out of ALSA, in order to better navigate Australia’s changing regulatory landscape.

In just three months Retail Drinks was able to evaluate the landscape and then deliver on a groundbreaking change for retail advocacy in Australia. Part of that change has seen new board members secured, and CEO Julie Ryan says the importance of those appointments, cannot be understated.

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Here we chat with Ryan about the change from ALSA to Retail Drinks, and the new direction of the association.

NLN: What have been some of your major achievements since joining ALSA/Retail Drinks Australia?

JR: I have to start with the transformation from ALSA to Retail Drinks Australia in just three short months – to be able to evaluate the landscape and then deliver on such a groundbreaking change for retail advocacy in Australia (despite some considerable headwinds) was beyond my expectations.  This includes the development and design of the brand, structure and constitution and the building of the new website – through to the fantastic launch in Melbourne which was so strongly supported.

Within that restructure and transformation there were other milestones that really stand out, including membership wins such as gaining the agreement of Coles to return (who had left ALSA three year ago), and securing the long term commitment of several corporates who had served notice on ALSA to withdraw their membership.

I cannot look past the amazing work of the LSA NSW team who helped shepherd the 450+ independent members of LSA NSW to a successful vote to merge with Retail Drinks, and the tireless efforts of Faye Hartley to achieve the same outcome in NT.

The calibre of the independent directors who were sought and then secured for the Retail Drinks board (in many cases with a new banner membership as well) cannot be understated for its importance either – it is the strong, recognised leaders that now sit on the Retail Drinks board that make it a credible industry body.

NLN: What was the thinking behind changing from ALSA to Retail Drinks?

JR: Structurally, ALSA was no longer fit for purpose for the changing regulatory landscape in Australia. It is critical to the success of protecting and defending against further regulatory creep that uniform policy positions are developed and advocated with government in all states and territories, and this could not be done through five separate linked organisations.

In developing a new structure, we had to be conscious of the headwinds that lay in much of the ALSA legacy – in historical actions, people, relationships and policies. A new entity, structure and brand allowed a genuine line in the sand from that legacy.

Retail Drinks was a brand that represented the intended vision for the future – enhancing the freedom to retail responsibly.

NLN: How has Retail Drinks been received by the industry?

JR: This change to Retail Drinks has been overwhelmingly embraced by industry and it is clear that there is support for leaving behind minority and siloed voices and putting the strength of industry (and its resources) into one credible and unified voice.

I am not pretending there are not dissenters, or those who have sought to undermine the change.  However, the priority was separating legitimate concerns from those motivated by siloed or self-interest. Legitimate concerns were accommodated into the structure and so I feel confident that those that genuinely have the best interests of industry at heart are those that have embraced the change.

NLN: Coles re-joined Retail Drinks this year. How significant was that for the association?

JR: It is one of our priorities that the majority players in each membership category are a part of the organisation and contributing their expertise.

Within Australia, the two organisations with the largest number of packaged liquor licenses in the chain category are Endeavour Drinks Group (EDG) and Coles Liquor Group, so we definitely knew the acquisition of their membership was critical.

NLN: Now that the former LSA state chapters have merged, what do the next 12 months look like for Retail Drinks on a national level?

JR: We still have a lot of work to do in order to finalise the legal elements of the mergers and wind up of state LSAs, and we also have a full review of membership services and priorities occurring in February.

Nationally, we represent liquor retailers on industry bodies such as Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) and DrinkWise, and so we will work with these entities to identify which issues Retail Drinks will manage and which we are best to support through them.

We also need to consider our national footprint of membership and recruit the staff who will support the independent stores on a daily basis with stores visits, health checks and other key services best delivered in person. Our membership manager in NSW conducts over 1200 store visits annually so members can be pretty excited about the level of support they will get in-store.

With the first AGM in October where we bring all members together nationally for a meeting as well as related seminars and activities, it is bound to be a full schedule for 2019.

NLN: What are the major issues that the industry should be discussing in 2019?

JR: I am going to hijack this question a little, because the known issues embedded in the draft National Alcohol Strategy (which will only be amplified if the federal election results in a portfolio change, which is widely expected), and the range of population wide measures proposed throughout Australia for restrictions on advertising, access and availability, are probably already well covered by other leaders in this publication.

I believe the most important issue for industry is to gain control of the dialogue in media, community and government regarding Australians’ relationship with alcohol. Australians’ drinking is at a 50 year low and continues to decline. Per capita consumption has declined since a peak of 13.1L in 1971 to now 9.4L per person. Rates of single instance harmful drinking have declined and rates of teenage drinking have also decreased. In addition to the fact that almost all trends in harmful drinking are declining, we know that light to moderate drinking can be good for your health and wellbeing.

Yet despite these positive trends, media reporting and government policy are dominated with communications and proposed strategies to tackle the allegation that Australian’s have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and that intervention is required. This message is delivered uniformly and consistently by the temperance (anti-alcohol) lobby who seek to demonise alcohol like tobacco.

We must start to talk as loudly, and as often, with the real facts and evidence about alcohol consumption in Australia. Issues with alcohol related harm do exist, but these are not population wide and so should not be addressed with population wide measures.

If we do not balance the dialogue, we will have no voice on all the issues we know we will face. To date, industry has not achieved the collaboration necessary to have a consistent and unified voice to do that. This is the issue we must continue to challenge ourselves on and find a solution to.

NLN: What do you see as major challenges and opportunities for Retail Drinks over the next 12 months?

JR: As a new organisation, there is a huge challenge in how much we have to achieve: develop and approve Retail Drinks’ policies, solidify its relationships with all arms of governments, maintain its stakeholder engagement and of course, prepare for its very first AGM and national meeting.

The opportunities though are where the real excitement lies. Membership acquisition and maintenance will be a core focus, and ensuring that we maintain a constant dialogue with all our stakeholders will help keep us focused on where the value in Retail Drinks is for them. There is also huge opportunity to further develop and secure our relationship with other parts of industry to enhance collaboration for a better, stronger and more unified industry.

NLN: How do you intend to support the retail industry in 2019?

JR: That’s an easy one to answer – through the delivery of our objectives. By advocating on our vision to enhance the freedom to retail responsibly, we will:

  1. Aim to nurture a stable political, social and commercial environment in which the retail liquor industry may grow sustainably.
  2. Act as a single unified forum on agreed retail liquor issues in Australia and communicate the collective views of members.
  3. Contribute to an informed debate by:
  • Coordinating industry position and response on agreed retail liquor issues;
  • analysing, summarising and disseminating research, data and practice on retail liquor issues to members and external stakeholders; and
  • ensuring the views of those who sell alcohol responsibly are represented.

Our membership services team will spend each and every day providing valuable services to members in-store, to help them to do business better and more efficiently, and support them in compliance with the complex regulatory framework in which they operate.

This article was written for the 2019 National Liquor News Annual Industry Leaders Forum published in February.