Shoprite goes to top court over loss of licence to sell wine next to food

WHEN grocery retailers in the Eastern Cape lost their licences to sell wine on their shelves alongside groceries, it was an arbitrary deprivation of property, Shoprite Checkers argued at the Constitutional Court on Thursday.

The grocery retailer predicted that the closure of 27 of its table wine sections — as envisaged by the Eastern Cape Liquor Act — would lead to a loss of about R40m in sales a year.

This is not a very large dent considering parent Shoprite Holdings made R57.5bn in sales in the six months ended December. However, Shoprite also said the closure would impact negatively on its business and marketing strategy. The case is also legally significant — the judgment could break new ground on what constitutes property under the constitution, and potentially pave the way for challenges to other licences if this one is regarded as property.

The 2003 Eastern Cape Liquor Act did away with grocers’ wine licences that entitled them to sell wine on their shelves next to food. The act said they had to apply for a new type of licence, which would allow them to sell all alcohol, but on separate premises. They were given 10 years to make the transition, during which time they could carry on as before.

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