Alcohol Minimum Unit Pricing: No Observable Impacts on Sales

Minimum Unit Pricing has not been detrimental to the alcohol drinks industry – that’s the result of the most recent survey produced by Public Health Scotland.

In 2012, the Scottish Government passed the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 to allow the implementation of a minimum unit price (MUP) for all alcoholic drinks retailed in Scotland. Secondary legislation followed setting the rate at 50 pence per unit (ppu) and MUP came into effect on 1 May 2018, following the conclusion of legal challenges.

At the time it was suggested by some newspaper reports and those campaigning against MUP including opposition politicians that hordes of Scots would travel into England to buy cheaper booze to bring back home.

This view is not supported by evidence. It has been found that only a very small number of people did that. The vast majority of Scots (81%) of those surveyed, did not cross the border into England to buy cheap alcohol. This was even the case for people living nearest to the English border.

The key finding of the report is:

The evidence we have gathered does not suggest that MUP has significantly impacted the performance of the alcoholic drinks industry in Scotland.

Public Health Scotland

The report comes at a time when the Scottish Government is consulting on restricting alcohol advertising.

Public Health Scotland commissioned Frontier Economics to evaluate the economic impact of MUP on producers and retailers of alcoholic drinks in Scotland. The report provides findings from the final evaluation.

Commenting on the report Andrew Leicester, Associate Director at Frontier Economics and lead researcher said:

“Our analysis of detailed quantitative data broken down by country and sub-sector of the alcoholic drinks industry does not find compelling evidence of observable impacts of MUP on industry performance in the years immediately following its introduction.

“Case study interviews from across different parts of the industry largely validate this view, recognising that MUP clearly did affect the behaviour of producers and retailers to adapt rapidly to new limits on pricing but not in ways that appear to have significantly affected overall industry performance in the medium-run”.

The introduction of MUP, according to the report, did lead to change. It appears that premium brands did well with consumers choosing more expensive brands. There was also evidence that the industry has after the introduction of MUP “‘moved on’ since then with MUP largely not a day-to-day concern”.

The 2020 Covid lockdowns meant that people could not go out to pubs etc to consume alcohol. This obviously has had a huge impact on that trade but it also meant that retail sales of alcohol increased as there was more consumption in the home.

For those who produce alcohol, revenues have remained roughly the same, however, they are facing increasing costs recently with the rise in price of staff and raw materials.

“Large retailers did not think there had been any changes in their revenue or profits either for the worse or better. For other retailers, smaller convenience stores were most likely to note decrease in revenues and profits, for a few this was potentially quite significant, but was often masked by other sales and changes in other alcohol prices e.g. wines. “

Neil Craig, Interim Head of Evaluation at Public Health Scotland said:

“We welcome the publication of this study, which is one of a portfolio of studies looking at the impact of MUP in Scotland. The report provides important evidence on how MUP has affected the alcoholic drinks industry in Scotland. We will bring this together with the other published evidence on the impact of MUP on a range of different outcomes, including hospitalisations and deaths. This will be published in a final, overarching report to be published later this year.”

The Scottish Government’s consultation on restricting the advertising and promotion of alcohol closes on 9th of March 2023.

Click on this link to access the consultation: Alcohol advertising and promotion It’s aim is as follows:

By restricting alcohol marketing in Scotland we hope to reduce the appeal of alcohol to our young people. This will support a reduction in consumption of alcohol and subsequently improve their health and health prospects as adults. It will also reduce the potential triggering effect that alcohol marketing can have on higher-risk drinkers, those in recovery or treatment and support our ambition to change our troubled relationship with alcohol. Your responses will help shape our next steps. 

Fiona Grahame

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