Countdown should show some "common sense" and "flexibility" when confusions mounts over its policy about the sale 0 per cent alcohol beverages, Consumer NZ says.

An Auckland man says he will no longer go back to St Johns Countdown after a run-in with staff at the weekend after he tried to buy two cans of 0 per cent beer.

The 37-year-old, who only wanted to be known as Stephen, said despite shopping at the store multiple times a week for the past two years without an issue, he was annoyed staff refused to sell him the beer due to him having a Japanese student with him.

The visiting student - who has only been in New Zealand two weeks - is 18 years old but was left in tears over the incident which saw Stephen leave behind the $200 worth of groceries he had just put through the self-checkout.


The man said while he could appreciate Countdown's policy, he didn't appreciate how staff spoke and treated him on the day and couldn't help but wonder if there was a bit of "casual racism" thrown in as he'd never had an issue when he went shopping with his 16-year-old daughter - who he said looked 20 years old.

When contacted, Countdown spokeswoman Kiri Hannifin declined to comment on the shopper's specific criticisms but said she was sorry to hear he did not have a pleasant experience.

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The supermarket chain treats zero per cent products "as an adult product".

"It is marketed as an adult alternative to full-strength alcohol products. Zero alcohol beer, wine and spirits are all designed to look and taste like alcohol. These products are typically heavily branded with well-known beer and wine branding.

"Accordingly, these products are not intended to be sold in the same way as a normal grocery product.

"To avoid confusion for customers, we have signs displayed in our single alcohol areas which clearly state that zero per cent alcohol will still be treated the same way as alcohol at our checkouts for the reasons stated above."

Hannifin said that regulatory agencies and health advocates "have been critical of retailers removing restrictions on the sale of zero alcohol beer".


It is not illegal in New Zealand to sell 0 per cent alcohol to those aged under 18.

Consumer NZ spokeswoman Jessica Wilson said the supermarket needed to make it clear to customers what their policy was when it came to 0 per cent alcohol products.

"They should make it clear to the customers what the policy is but also I think in situations like this it would have been reasonable for the store to just to use a bit of common sense given what the product was they were selling, which was a 0 per cent alcohol beer."

Wilson said the Advertising Standards Authority was currently drafting up voluntary regulations regarding the sale of zero per cent alcohol which would propose that it is treated like regular alcoholic drinks.

"That's an indication that these products where they are marketed as a variant of an alcoholic drink or they're given the same appearance as alcohol, there is concern about the influence of drinking behaviour.

"The main concern raised was that it is promoting consumption of alcohol-type products."


Brewers Association of NZ executive director Dylan Firth said it wasn't illegal to buy non-alcoholic beer for under 18-year-olds.

However, 0 per cent beers were sold as an adult beverage and were located in the alcohol section of supermarkets.

"Each supermarket would have their own internal policy regarding how they treat these sales so I would not be able to comment."