Minimum Unit Pricing in Scotland - substitution a factor?

10/06/2020

Minimum Unit Pricing in Scotland

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Summary comment

We share the ambition to tackle alcohol misuse though remain convinced that whole population measures like minimum pricing are flawed as they displace consumption and have disproportionate, if unintended, impacts on consumers and producers.

Our analysis after six and 12 months of minimum pricing was that Scots were paying considerably more to drink the same or slightly more alcohol given revised patterns of consumption.

It merits repetition that this policy does not increase Government revenues and based on the forecasts made it will reduce spending in pubs and bars – though they are presently closed given the Covid-19 pandemic.

Alcohol consumption and issues of substitution post MUP

We advise caution in drawing conclusions from a few headline numbers as we understand that those involved in the evaluation of minimum pricing are keen to establish the most detailed picture possible to then consider the impact of this policy on patterns of consumption.

Previously released data reported a 3.6% decline in alcohol consumption in Scotland in the year following the introduction of minimum pricing, yet another analysis suggests a very modest increase in the total number of units of alcohol consumed.

That analysis was based on the alcohol content of individual brands as opposed assumed averages for whole categories and is more detailed as a result. There is also the issue of how sales in discount retailers and the convenience sector are treated as this is not available as EPoS data.

It is vital that we all have confidence in both the total consumption numbers and also the relative performance of particular categories as that offers insight into the likely substitution of one type of alcohol for another.

For example, sales of white cider in Scotland prior to minimum pricing accounted for just 0.16% of the value of total alcohol sales (a lower proportion than in England and Wales). It is a category in long-term decline.

By contrast, the fortified wine category by volume was ten times larger than the market for white cider in Scotland before minimum pricing was introduced and sales have continued to surge in the period since this new measure.

This is chiefly due to Buckfast Tonic Wine at 15% alcohol - a brand for which sales in Scotland account for around 98% of total production.

We have also seen a very marked increase in sales of pre-mixed drinks, at 8% abv these are sometimes termed ‘alcopops’.

Given the public health ambition for minimum pricing, it must be a serious concern if sales of cider at 7.5% and perry at 6.8% are simply being substituted for fortified wines at 15% alcohol and other drinks at higher strength.

Though this was the informed assessment of many before the implementation of minimum pricing. As was the significant disruption to all drinks categories leading to many products being withdrawn, reducing consumer choice.

Comparisons between Scotland and England and Wales

We understand data is due to be released that compares sales in Scotland versus alcohol sales in England and Wales. Notwithstanding our wish for clarity on the method of calculation there are important features that inform any analysis of the numbers.

First, there are some features of the market in Scotland that are very different to the rest of the UK, like the profile and exceptional growth of some fortified wines and premixed drinks.

Second, in the year after the implementation there was the 2019 World Cup. Whilst we believe Scots will have cheered the progress of the England team, we suspect this was not to the same extent as in England.


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