Forecourt retailers have made great improvements in preventing underage sales of alcohol, according to latest statistical analysis from Serve Legal.

The independent test purchasing and site analysis company’s end of year review of 2011 site visits shows that forecourts continued to narrow the gap on supermarkets and convenience stores in terms of performance.

Forecourt retailers achieved a pass rate of 76% from 2,598 visits made by testers from Serve Legal. This compares to a pass rate of 79% achieved by supermarkets and 78% by conveniences stores during the same 12-month period.

A Serve Legal test purchase is a ‘pass’ if one of its nationwide team of 18- or 19-year-old mystery visitors is required to provide official ID to complete the purchase. Outlets ‘fail’ if the visitor is able to purchase alcohol without showing ID.

However, the performance of forecourt retailers is not so hot when it comes to sales staff asking for customer ID before cigarettes are purchased.

Their pass rate falls to 57%, based on 407 visits – although this was a 3% improvement on 2010.

Both the supermarket and convenience store sectors also saw 2011 pass rates on cigarette sales fall below that achieved for alcohol – achieving 69% and 68% respectively.

Serve Legal MD Charlie Mowat said that overall, forecourt retailers could be pleased with their performances and rising pass rates. “They have demonstrated growing professionalism and by

adopting best retail practices are almost now on a par with supermarkets and convenience stores, which is a great leap forward,” he said.

He added that better staff training and improved management systems, in addition to regular testing of sales procedures, have all played a part in achieving this improved performance. Most leading forecourt retailers to help drive improvements have now adopted testing, said Mowat, as standard procedure.

In 2009, the forecourt sector pass rate on alcohol sales was just 53%. In 2010 this improved to 68% and is now 76%.