Retailers looking to replace banned superstrength lager products need to be cautious about replacing them with duty-evaded replacements, the Federation of Wholesale Distributors has warned.

Stores could lose their alcohol licence if they continue to sell 500ml cans of some high strength lagers after the end of March. Retailer Alert Bulletins (RABs) issued by the Portman Group last month advised retailers not to sell Carlsberg Special Brew 500ml, Skol Super 500ml and Kestrel Super Premium 500ml 9% abv cans after March 31.

New Home Office guidance supporting the enforcement of the Licensing Act sets out that Retailer Alert Bulletins can be used as a condition on a licence. Therefore, retailers could face an alcohol licence review if they continue to stock products subject to the Portman Group’s RABs.

The FWD has warned that other high strength 500ml products, which are not subject to the ban, may be illegal because no UK duty has been paid on them.

FWD chief executive James Bielby said: “The side effect of taking mainstream products out of the market is that it creates an opportunity for the illicit trade.

“Retailers need to be very careful if they are offered alternative brands to replace the ones subject to the Retailer Alert Bulletins. The penalties for selling duty-evaded stock are much higher.

“We strongly recommend that you stick to your FWD member wholesaler to make sure you are stocking legal goods, and keep records of where your stock is purchased.”

Wholesalers have reported falling sales of superstrength lagers in recent years as a proliferation of non-duty-paid brands floods the market, including foreign imports and UK-produced lager intended for export which is diverted onto the domestic market, according to the FWD.

The illicit trade costs the Treasury more than £550m a year in lost revenue on beer alone.