Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Hitting your wallet

Here’s an effective debunking on the Adam Smith Institute blog of yet another report, this time from the Policy Exchange, claiming that increasing the price of alcoholic drinks would be the solution to all our ills. How many times does it have to be said that the UK already has some of the highest off-trade alcohol prices in Western Europe, so if we have more “problems” than France or Germany it is clear that price isn’t the major driving factor? Indeed, far from leading to a Chardonnay-sipping café culture, it’s highly likely that an across-the-board price increase would just tend to exacerbate many of the more negative aspects of our drinking culture.

The report also falls into the common trap of pointing the finger of blame at “strong drinks”, whereas in fact the average strength of beer consumed in the UK must be lower than in any other EU country apart from Ireland. As the posting says, if you look at the products that are heavily discounted in Tesco and ASDA, they’re all beers of low to medium strength. Indeed, it’s noticeable that the supermarkets never offer price promotions on super-strength lagers, and indeed the way they present them suggests they regard them as a product stocked grudgingly to cater for an ageing, downmarket customer base. Beers over 5% ABV represent a tiny section of the market split between the aforementioned super lagers and premium products such as Duvel and Old Tom which tend to be consumed responsibly by discerning drinkers.

If public policy is framed by people who haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about, it’s hardly surprising that nothing improves.


  1. I'm trying to visualise an Old Tom lout.

    I can't.

  2. At one of the earliest Stockport Beer Festivals, a couple of lads came in at around 11.45 am and asked for the strongest beer we had. Two pints of Old Tom were duly served. Ten minutes later, and it was "the same again". Another ten minutes, and all four pints had been thrown back up on the floor :-(

    Hopefully nowadays the staff would be more circumspect, but it's not the best beer in the world for rapid bingeing.

  3. Yeh, I'm sorry about that, Curmudgeon.

  4. The Adam Smith Institute is an insult its namesake. With that aside, supermarkets are likely to discount (with real evidence of charging below production cost) drinks that breweries are willing to sell to them cheaply. It is breweries that choose to do this... Anyway, we are as likely to see Stella (5%+) discounted as much as any other lower strength industrial waste. It is rare to see imported Becks running at a discount where it is more common for Stella. Seriously though, it is a case of neoclassical economics.

  5. Becks and Stella are both Inbev products and regularly appear in the 3 for 2 boxes of cheap grog type deals in Tesco.

  6. In overall European terms, beers of 5% ABV are "medium strength" - they are what people normally consume.

    The premise of the report is that "strong beers" - i.e. those above 5% - are a major cause of the "problem", which is very wide of the mark.

  7. Well, Stella has the nickname "wifebeater" for a reason.


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