Opinion Former Article

Pubs call for action on cheap supermarket alcohol

British publicans see cheap supermarket alcohol as the single greatest threat to their industry, and support government action to raise prices, according to a new Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) report.

Pubs Quizzed: What Publicans Think About Policy, Public Health and the Changing Trade collects the results of a national survey of pub managers, finding that a large majority (83%) believe supermarket alcohol is too cheap, with almost half (48%) citing competition from shops and supermarkets among their top three biggest concerns. Almost three-quarters (72%) of publicans believe the government should raise taxes on alcohol in supermarkets to tackle the problem. 

These findings highlight divisions in the alcohol industry, with several major multinational producers actively opposing policies such as minimum unit pricing (MUP), which would increase the price of the cheapest products sold in shops and supermarkets. Legislation for MUP was passed by the Scottish Government in 2012, but implementation continues to be delayed as a result of a legal challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association, which represents firms such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard. However, Pubs Quizzed finds ordinary publicans support the measure by a margin of 2 to 1, with 41% in favour and 22% against.

Commenting on the findings of this report, IAS Chief Executive Katherine Brown said:

“The desire to support pubs has often been used as a reason to resist policies to reduce alcohol-related harm, including minimum unit pricing, increasing alcohol taxes and stricter drink-drive laws. However, Pubs Quizzed finds that publicans actually favour many of these measures, recognising cheap alcohol as a danger both to their business and to wider society.”

The report’s author, IAS Policy Analyst Aveek Bhattacharya, said:

“Supermarkets and off-licences emerged as the clear villains from our interviews with publicans. There is a widespread belief that they are undercutting local pubs and encouraging harmful drinking. Our findings suggest that whether you want to support pubs or to reduce harmful drinking, the answer is the same: increase the price of the cheapest alcohol through tax or minimum unit pricing.”

Other findings include:
44% of publicans feel that the UK has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol
58% of publicans in England and Wales support reducing the drink-drive limit to bring them into line with Scotland
Business rates are more unpopular than alcohol taxes, with 38% ranking higher rates among the top three biggest threats to their business, compared to 17% for higher alcohol taxes
Publicans are generally optimistic about the state of the industry, with 53% predicting that this year will be better than the last


Notes to Editors

The full report, Pubs Quizzed: What Publicans Think About Policy, Public Health and the Changing Trade can be accessed through this link: bit.ly/pubsquizzed

About the Survey

The survey was carried out in February 2017 by specialist market research agency CGA Strategy, who conducted 103 telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of pub managers

UK Alcohol Policy Context

Alcohol is 44% more affordable today than in 1980, according to NHS Digital
The price of beer in the on-trade (pubs, bars, clubs, restaurants, hotels) rose by 60% more than the price of beer in the off-trade (supermarkets and off-licences) between 2000 and 2016, according to Office for National Statistics inflation data
A recent survey of alcohol sold in supermarkets and off-licenses prices conducted by the Alcohol Health Alliance found 3 litre bottles of cider (containing the equivalent of 22 units of vodka) priced at £3.59, and four packs of beer for as little as £1
Minimum unit pricing (MUP) involves setting a ‘floor price’ per unit below which it is illegal to sell alcohol
The measure is expected to raise the price of around half of the alcohol sold in supermarkets and off-licences, but less than 1% of alcohol sold in pubs
Legislation for a 50p MUP was passed by the Scottish Government in 2012, but is yet to be enacted, subject to an ongoing legal challenge by the alcohol industry
In real terms, beer duty is 14% lower today than in 2012, and cider and spirits duty 6% lower, cuts largely justified with reference to supporting pubs
England and Wales have the highest drink-drive limit (80mg/100ml blood alcohol concentration) in Europe. The Scottish Government reduced its limit to 50mg/100ml in 2014, but similar measures in the rest of the UK have been resisted because of fears of their impact on pubs

About the Institute of Alcohol Studies

The Institute of Alcohol Studies is an independent institute bringing together evidence, policy and practice from home and abroad to promote an informed debate on alcohol’s impact on society.

Our purpose is to advance the use of the best available evidence in public policy decisions on alcohol. The IAS is a company limited by guarantee, No 05661538 and registered charity, No 1112671. For more information visit www.ias.org.uk.

For media enquiries please contact:
Habib Kadiri
Research & Information Officer
Institute of Alcohol Studies
Alliance House
12 Caxton Street
Tel: +44 (0)207 222 4001
Follow IAS on Twitter: @InstAlcStud

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