Buying alcohol - a guide for retailers

Steps that can be taken to ensure compliance with the law when buying alcohol for sale at retail premises owned or managed by you

This advice is designed to provide basic guidance to traders. It is not a complete or authoritative statement of the law. Please note that some of the advice we provide to businesses is chargeable.

The practice of ensuring that goods (namely wines and spirits purchased by you for onward sale from your retail premises) are compositionally safe, the genuine ‘brand’ and are fully traceable are controlled by The Food Safety Act 1990, The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Food Regulations 2013 and The Trade Marks Act 1994 and associated legislation.

Production of counterfeit products

Over recent years there has been significant growth in relation to the counterfeiting of branded (in addition to one off cheap unbranded) spirits and wines. These products very quickly find their way onto the market due to the unsafe and illegal production methods employed by counterfeiters.

These individuals are often involved in other streams of organised crime and will therefore adopt highly unsafe methods of production including often employing migrant labour and providing extremely unsanitary conditions whereby hygiene during production is an afterthought. They will regularly use industrial alcohol to produce the spirit during the production process which becomes dangerous once consumed. The use of industrial alcohol in illegal alcohol production has been linked to serious injuries and deaths due to the high levels found.

What to look for

Counterfeiters will naturally try very hard to replicate genuine branded products (or produce a convincing one off unbranded product) however there are certain things to look for when checking to see if a product has the hallmarks of being counterfeit:

  • look at the fill heights of the bottles in your possession. The counterfeiting production process is not as advanced as the genuine process and therefore fill levels will vary greatly between bottles
  • spelling mistakes may be apparent on the label and there may be a difference in the general quality of the labels
  • look for differences in bottle design. Counterfeiters will attempt to replicate the branded bottle design, however slight differences may be noticeable
  • check the quality of the label application. Counterfeiters may poorly apply their labels using cheaper wet glue which may leave air pockets within the label
  • compare the cartons or boxes the product is placed or transported in and check for subtle differences
How to avoid obtaining counterfeit stock

To avoid being caught with these you should always purchase your spirits from reputable suppliers, who can supply you with the appropriate documentation and traceability. It is therefore not recommended that you purchase product via a ‘cold call’ to your premises or otherwise whereby the seller will sell you product for cash and won’t provide you with a receipt or an invoice. It is your responsibility in law to ensure that the goods you purchase are traceable.

If you are taking over a business and the stock comes as part of the package, be very careful to ensure that the stock you are inheriting is genuine stock. Remember you are ultimately responsible for whatever stock you inherit. It is not an excuse to say that you assumed the stock was genuine.

Duty evasion

The duty evasion of spirits (whereby the product is genuine however paying tax on the alcohol is avoided) is an illegal practice and one which Trading Standards Officers will continually monitor on behalf of HM Revenue & Customs. Any product we find which we suspect has been duty evaded will be recorded and the information will be immediately sent to HMRC for their consideration.


Make sure that your staff are fully trained and are aware of their responsibilities. It would be best practice to carry out appropriate staff training and create a staff training record which you and your staff can sign.

Failure to comply with the above requirements could result in prosecution and/or a review of your alcohol license. It could also result in members of the public being harmed by the consumption of potentially unsafe product in your possession.

Trading Standards

Hampshire County Council Trading Standards Service routinely inspect licensed premises in Hampshire. In addition to advising on various aspects of the law, Trading Standards Officers may conduct tests on the alcohol in your possession and take samples where appropriate. If a problem is found then you need to be able to show that you took reasonable precautions to prevent the offence.

This advice is designed to provide basic guidance to traders. It is not a complete or authoritative statement of the law. For further assistance on this or any other Trading Standards legislation, please contact your nearest office.