Friday 30 November 2012

Multiple malaise

In a sense, the government have been quite clever in settling on 45p/unit as their proposed minimum alcohol price. 40p would have brought about a terrible howling and gnashing of teeth from the anti-drink lobby, whereas 50p would have looked like slavish copying of the Jocks and also would have impacted on enough popular drinks to fan popular discontent.

But 45p is cunningly around or just above the price at which most mainstream alcohol brands currently sell. Yesterday I had a nose around my local Tesco at categories of drink that I don’t normally buy. All the three top-selling cooking lager brands – Carling, Carlsberg and Fosters – were a full £4 for 4x440ml cans, which is well above 55p. Oddly, the supposedly premium Stella 4% and Beck’s Vier were only £3.40, although that is still comfortably above 45p. Does that suggest “premium mainstream” has had its day? Four cans of 5% Strongbow were £3.99, pretty much spot on the minimum price.

Of the top Scotches, Bell’s and Teacher’s were both £12 a bottle, a bit below the £12.60 minimum price, but I think only a short-term seasonal offer. During the year they’re normally at least £13, often more. And Grouse was £13 anyway. There was very little on the wine shelves below £4.39, which would be the minimum price for a 13% bottle. While there were a number of German wines at £3.99, those are mostly only 11% or so, and would still be OK.

Yes, if you’re buying economy brands, or discounted slabs, you will suffer. But Joe and Joanne Moderate-Drinker could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about.

On the other hand, the store was brimming with multibuy offers – 4 premium bottled ales for £6, various world beers at 3 for 2, 25% off any 6 bottles of wine. Probably very little, if any, of these would take you below 45p/unit, but they will be outlawed just as surely as lower-priced drinks. And that is where the typical aspirational C1C2 voter filling up their car boot will really feel the pain. They might imagine from the media discussion that the proposals will only affect tramps and chavs, but they would be very wrong.

The argument for banning multibuy discounts is that they encourage people to drink more than they otherwise would. However, I would have thought that in general they tend to be used by organised people to do their drink buying in the most cost-effective way. Almost by definition, problem drinkers aren’t going to be laying it in weeks in advance. Plus banning multibuys in Scotland has had no effect on overall sales levels. If the discounted price is already well above the minimum price, what is the point of banning the discount? Will offering malt whiskies at £25 a bottle, or £40 for two, really lead to an increase in binge-drinking?

If there is no minimum price, then arguably it makes a bit of sense, but with a minimum price it is utterly pointless, just another small, irritating, niggly restriction on the responsible drinker, just another notch on the denormalisation of alcohol.


  1. But M&S "Dine In for £10" is ok even though it includes a bottle of wine in the offer. Maybe Sam likes to pop in there when her and Dave have had a busy day?

  2. The notion is that multi-buy offers get you to stock up while it's cheap but you end up drinking more because you have lots of booze in the house, right?

    But wouldn't this also happen to people who fill the boot in France to avoid the minimum price?

    Not that it's actually true anyway. As an obsessive homebrewer I always have loads of beer on hand but have the peculiar ability to refrain from getting pissed every night.

  3. It will more than a minor irritant to those on low wages. In my local Lidl, the wines under £4 have the most shelf space. The £3.59 wine I drink might be the most popular. A price rise to £4.22 a week represents an increase of £1.40 a week to the 21 unit a week drinker. To someone counting the pennies, that represents a lot of treats or evenings in the cold over a year.

  4. I can only presume they judge everyone by their own standards, so when they lay down fine wines at £50 a bottle, they must spend three weeks away with the fairies.

  5. Oh, I'm under no illusions that it will hit a lot of people very hard - the point I'm making is that moderate drinkers on reasonable incomes may not see what the fuss is all about.

    I saw on Twitter: "Cost of a bottle of Chateau Angelus Premier Cru (as drunk at Euro summit). Before minimum pricing: £120. After minimum pricing: £120"

  6. But isn’t the whole point of this not to make people stand back in shock at the newly-increased price of their regular tipple, but to get them to acquiesce to the principle? Which, of course, the vast majority of them will do, because most can’t see beyond the end of their noses or visualise beyond the end of next week.

    This is just the starting point. As anyone with a modicum of common sense (and memory) knows, once the principle has been supposedly “accepted” by the public, then the path is clear for the 45p level to be steadily ratcheted up, year on year, under the guise of exactly the same artificial “reasons” as it was originally implemented, so that by the time all your aforementioned “moderate drinkers” do start to notice the difference – and to object to it – they’ll just look like a lot of NIMBYs who are only objecting because it affects them, not because it is fundamentally wrong. And although in essence (sadly) this will be an accurate description, the danger is that it makes such people very easy for the Puritans to ignore. After all, who wants to take any notice of a lot of whinging drinkers just because they’ve changed their mind, now that a measure which they previously supported has begun to affect them negatively? Particularly when (as will be argued) the “nation’s health is at stake?”

    I just can’t think where all these anti-drink campaigners could have got such a cunning idea from ...

  7. This is one factor I think is difficult to predict an outcome, but I’ll try. Supermarkets offer multibuy to shift volume. You get a bargain by taking home more than you want. Whether this affects consumption is difficult to say. It results in food waste on perishables, as the second bag of apples on a bogof rots. People don’t treat themselves to an extra luxurious dump because they got a free packet of Andrex.

    If bulk discounts, multibuys etc are banned then a can of Carling is priced the same whether you buy 1,4,12 or 36. Aldi offer cheap prices and don’t do multibuy. So maybe the price will fall for those buying a few and getting on the bus, and there is no bargain for people filling up the boot of a car. Price competition becomes clearer and benefits the single can street drinker at the expense of the bulk buyer.

    Why fill up the boot of a car? Unless you are having a party or you are expecting nuclear war there is no reason to stock up other than getting a bargain. You would expect peoples habits to change and have less stock in the house. Unless it becomes cheaper to stock up in Calais.

  8. Presumably people fill up the boot of a car because they tend to do a "big shop" of non-perishable items every fortnight or even every month.

    Or maybe they're just pissheads.


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