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Tesco 'Think 21' scheme faces criticism

Published:  23 July, 2008

Tesco has defended its "Think 21" scheme designed to combat underage sales of alcohol, after figures obtained by Harpers' sister site Talking Retail, showed it was failing to meet targets.

Only 62% of Tesco stores passed the most recent internal test purchasing initiative designed to check whether the policy is working, according to an internal memo.

Checkout staff should ask customers for identification if they appear to be under 21 before selling them alcohol. However Tesco Extra stores passed in only 64% of cases and Express stores in 63%.

56% of superstores in the South passed the test purchasing initiative but less than half of superstores (44%) in the North.

The memo also shows only Tesco Metro stores improved their results during the period, with an 88% pass rate.

The memo tells store managers: "If these were external results, stores would be in great danger of losing the ability to sell alcoholIt is vital that all your cashiers and checkout trained staff always 'Think 21' when selling alcohol."

Tesco said: "We dedicate substantial resources to improving our Think 21 policy. This means that anyone who looks under 21 and does not have appropriate ID will not be sold alcohol in our stores."

"These results are NOT test purchases. They relate to an internal initiative looking at how many customers are asked to provide proof-of-age ID by staff at the tills.

"All the mystery shoppers involved in this process were 18 years old or over and the results give us an insight into the areas where we could further improve our policy and support our staff in tackling under-age sales."

The warning that stores could lose their alcohol licences is thought to have been a scare tactic, aimed at shocking managers into action.

A Tesco spokesman said the retailer "did very well on underage test purchasing".

Tesco Express outlets tended to be more problematic than superstores, as staff in the smaller convenience stores had only a handful of colleagues to back them up when refusing underage sales and could feel intimidated, he added.

But one cashier who contacted Talking Retail claimed his store manager was deliberately allowing alcohol to be sold to under-aged young people.

"I have not been told to be more careful at the till - no-one has - and I see young people get alcohol