Assessing the Potential Impact of the New Minimum Unit Pricing Regulation in Scotland

Assessing the Potential Impact of the New Minimum Unit Pricing Regulation in Scotland

The Scottish government initially passed legislation for minimum pricing of alcohol (MUP) back in 2012, but it was followed by a lengthy legal challenge. With that now over, the legislation came into force at the start of May this year.

Now in place, the minimum pricing of alcohol regulation means that a single unit of alcohol cannot be sold for less than 50p. And as a result, the stronger the drink, the more expensive it will be.

While we don’t yet know what exact impact of the new legislation will be on consumption, we surveyed consumers in Scotland to get a better understanding of their view of the new legislation and assess if they’re planning to change their habits as a result.

Our research found that three-quarters of those we interviewed were aware of the legislation, but in spite of this awareness, aren’t clear about what it actually means. Only 62% agreed that the legislation applies to all types of alcoholic drinks, and around one in five believes that it doesn’t apply to any of the main types of of alcoholic drinks: spirits, beer, cider, wine and pre-mixed drinks. The reality, however, is that MUP applies to all alcohol. Although the MUP is not a tax, there’s also a lack of awareness about where the money generated by it will actually go, with nearly two-thirds believing it will go to the Scottish government.

Just over half of those we interviewed said they were broadly in favour of MUP, but we see a notable difference in opinion across  different age groups. Support for the legislation rises to nearly 70% among those aged 18-34, but this support falls as age rises, with nearly a quarter of those aged over 35 saying that they disagreed with the legislation. Interestingly, among those who agree with MUP, there’s an even split in terms of the number of people who think that the 50p unit price is at the right level, compared with those who think it should actually be higher.

So, what does this mean for drinking behaviour? Almost three-fourths of those we interviewed (71%), said that they would continue to consume the same amount and type of alcohol once MUP comes into force. Around one-in-six said that they would reduce the amount they consume, and one-in-10 plan to drink the same quantity, but change their drink of choice to something with less alcohol in it, and therefore commanding a lower price.

Those who were aware of MUP before participating in our survey had clearly been thinking about how to mitigate the impact of the price rise on their own pockets, with significantly more of them saying that they would buy alcohol outside Scotland and take it home (whether from stores or online).  So far, there is little evidence to suggest that Scottish shoppers are stocking up on alcohol before MUP comes into effect, although as awareness and understanding of what it actually means builds, we may see an increase in these shopper behaviours as we get closer to the 1st May deadline.

While Scottish shoppers say they currently don’t intend to change their drinking habits, once they see the real impact on pricing in-store, they may shift their mindset. This may prompt them to buy and consume alcohol differently. Naturally, we’ll closely watch alcohol sales in Scottish stores, along with those along the border, to monitor the impact.

This article originally appeared in Drinks Retailing News, April 2018