It feels very odd to be writing about my own impending departure from the Portman Group.

It’s been three and a half years since I first stepped foot into the office, met the team and settled into this important and challenging role. In that time, we’ve achieved a huge amount – frankly too much for me to summarise here – but there are some highlights that are worth celebrating.

The publication of the sixth edition of the Code of Practice represented a major step forward for the industry. The explicit reference to protecting those who are vulnerable, rather than just those who are under-18, is an important measure that empowers the Independent Complaints Panel and demonstrates the industry’s commitment to minimise the risk of harmful drinking wherever it may occur. Within the same Code, the creation of a new rule covering serious or widespread offence shows a determination to root out the small number of producers who believe the way to create profile or stand out is to offend – but in doing so bring the whole industry into disrepute. The support we received for that new rule is testament to a sector that wants to do better and knows it can.

Possibly most critically, our revised Code brought forward updated guidance that enabled us to re-establish a unit-based threshold for non-resealable, single-serve bottles and cans. The previous voluntary commitment had been underpinned by the old Chief Medical Officers’ (CMOs) guidance and as such, had ceased to be applicable after the low-risk drinking levels were changed.  The updated position provides clear and strong rules for the industry, preventing large, high strength, single serve containers returning to the market, while also providing flexibility for producers. To my mind, this is an example of self-regulation working at its best – stepping up promptly to maintain high standards with the support and backing of producers.

Aside from the Code, we have secured agreement from members, back in August 2019, to put updated Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidance on labels.  Again, this was an important step in demonstrating the industry’s commitment to providing consumers with the information they need to make an informed choice around their drinking behaviour. Of course, CMO guidance on labels won’t do this alone but with strong industry backing for Drinkaware, there has never been more information available on how to moderate and drink responsibly.

As an organisation, we’ve welcomed five new members during my time in post – Asahi, Aston Manor, Campari, SHS Drinks and Thatchers Cider. Each has brought with them a knowledge and perspective that has enhanced the organisation as well as providing the scale that gives greater impact.  To my mind, there is no doubt that the industry benefits enormously from having effective and pragmatic self-regulation and I sincerely hope that in the years to come others will step forward to show their support.

Of course, the Portman Group doesn’t operate in a vacuum and this year has been like no other.  For our members, and many thousands of companies across the country, this has been a huge struggle simply to survive.  The hospitality sector, and the businesses that supply it, play a significant role in our economy, employing millions of people and generating tens of millions of pounds in spend. But they also provide a crucial social purpose – one that many people have recognised this year for the first time.  Our pubs, bars and restaurants aren’t simply venues for people to go out and eat and drink. In many areas, they are a hub, bringing generations together across the city, town, or village, to socialise, share stories, visit friends, and enjoy good company. This year more than ever before we’ve seen the damaging effect that losing these venues has – hopefully only temporarily – on people’s mental health, happiness, and well-being.

There are, of course, also legitimate, and important debates to be had about how best to curb the harmful effects of alcohol misuse and excessive consumption. My time with the Portman Group has seen the many positive trends in this area show continued improvement. We must build on this sustained platform of success to ensure we continue to move forward positively, as a nation, in our relationship with alcohol.  Many of the great successes of the last decade or more have been delivered through partnerships. In the night-time economy, almost every part of the country will recognise the improvements that have delivered a reduction in alcohol related crime, significant falls in alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour and record low levels of underage drinking.  As a nation, our overall level of drinking continues to fall with four in every five people choosing not to drink or to do so at modest levels. We have some of the highest standards in the world on product labelling and marketing with enhanced education and information for consumers and strict age verification practices.

Yet we know there is more to do. We know that, for a small percentage of the population, alcohol remains deeply troubling and harmful.  The 3-4% of people consuming the most alcohol in the UK do so at very high levels, causing harm to themselves, their families and loved ones, wider society and to our NHS. People drinking at this level often face complex, multi-faceted challenges and need support from a variety of avenues. Through interventions such as the Walsall NHS frequent flier’s initiative we know that there are ways to make a difference – but they are difficult, expensive and take time as well as commitment. We must always seek opportunities to do more. I know that this is an industry that takes its responsibilities seriously and will not duck the challenge of finding ways to tackle the problems brought about by those drinking at the highest levels.

Before I conclude, I want to say an enormous thank you to the people who put their heart and soul into making the Portman Group a success.  The current team, and many of those who went before them, consistently show great skill, commitment, and determination to ensure the organisation can make a positive difference in this difficult and challenging area.  The team consists of brilliant regulators – individuals with a shared passion for showing that self-regulation can consistently and effectively raise the bar on industry standards without causing undue harm to the majority of producers – and highly effective and ambitious communicators, keen to tell our story, demonstrate our successes and make a difference. Our work isn’t easy and there are times when it can feel like the Portman Group comes under attack from all sides but the people with whom I have had the pleasure to work have been individually and collectively brilliant.  To them, thank you.

I wish my successor, Matt Lambert, every success as he embarks on his own journey with the Portman Group. I was attracted to an organisation that I believed could make a difference in the right way. Nearly four years on, I know that to be the case and look forward to watching the organisation go from strength to strength.



The Portman Group promotes the UK as an international example of industry best practice in submission to WHO consultation on reducing the harmful use of alcohol

The Portman Group has responded to a recently closed World Health Organisation consultation on the development of an action plan to strengthen the implementation of the Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol, which was first adopted in 2010. As the UK’s alcohol industry regulator and social responsibility body, reducing the harmful use of alcohol is a primary focus and is an essential component of promoting responsible drinking.

We believe that the UK market stands as an international example of industry best practice and the substantial progress that has been made to tackle the harmful use of alcohol in the country. This has been achieved, in part, through the ongoing success of voluntary cross-industry initiatives as well as public-private partnerships implementing public health initiatives.

Whilst there is more work to be done, the progress made so far in tackling alcohol-related harm and ensuring that the moderate majority of consumers drink responsibly should be celebrated. This also reinforces the need for the action plan for the Global Strategy to focus on reducing harmful alcohol use rather than unhelpfully diluting its focus on overall consumption and alcohol use per se, which may undermine the commitment of the strategy to a harm reduction approach.

The success of voluntary measures, combined with a variety of initiatives from the UK Government to tackle alcohol-related harm, also underscores that the action plan should recognise the broad suite of policy options and interventions included in the Global Strategy for reducing harmful alcohol use, rather than prioritising a narrower set of restrictive policies under the SAFER initiative.

The success of industry initiatives also demonstrate that the sector has a serious commitment to tackling harm in the UK and across the world and should continue to be seen as an active and willing partner as part of a ‘whole-of-society’ approach to tackling harmful alcohol use, which should be reflected in the Global Strategy.

Click here for the full response.

Goodbye (for now) to the Portman Group Responsible Actions to COVID-19 blog series


John Timothy, CEO Portman Group

Since September, we have been sharing bi-weekly blog posts from the alcohol-related sector’s major players on the responsible actions they have taken in the fight against COVID-19.

To use an often-quoted phrase, this year has been an unprecedented one that offered up challenges the industry never could have foreseen. While the fight is far from over, across the sector, producers and member bodies alike played their part in supporting colleagues, communities, key workers and even medical efforts against COVID-19.

Responsible consumption and the moderate majority

The Responsible Actions to COVID-19 blog series has been an important hub for organisations to share their experience of the pandemic. Despite what some in the media would have us believe, during lockdown, sales of alcohol fell as illustrated in our stockpiling blog.

We also saw that people broadly continued to drink as they had prior to lockdown. The moderate majority continued to drink within the CMO’s 14 unit low risk guidance and our study commissioned from YouGov in August showed 88% were drinking the same, less or had stopped drinking altogether since the start of lockdown. This isn’t a one-off poll; in the blog an analysis of 22 polls suggests that the moderate majority were consistently drinking the same or less compared to pre-lockdown. Overall, more than three quarters of people drank the same or less compared to before lockdown, with a quarter drinking less and fewer than a quarter drinking more.

Supporting communities and the industry locally, nationally and internationally

While alcohol sales decreased, the industry took this moment to step up and layout road maps of ongoing support on local, national and even international levels. The message from the industry was clear, they were committed to standing together in the face of COVID-19. Our members shared their commitments, including donating over £13 million for projects supporting communities and the sector. The Scottish Whisky Association detail how at its peak, pledges made via their portal totalled more than 1.5 million litres of high-strength ethanol every week – enough to produce a bottle of sanitiser for every household in the UK

The British Beer and Pub Association led the coordination of pubs supporting community-based action. These included The Cross Keys in Coleorton, Leicestershire delivering Mother’s Day lunches to local people and Brawn’s Den in Durham who donated supplies to food banks, who urgently needed this support.

The Scottish Alcohol Industry Partnership (SAIP) outlined the picture in Scotland by explaining their campaign for the safe reopening of hospitality. The SAIP ‘Cheers’ campaign explained the ground rules for keeping venues COVID-secure, such as physical distancing and using contactless payment methods, and used social media to promote these to promote confidence in returning consumers. The UK Spirits Alliance talked through how they led a community-based approach, achieving the donation of hand sanitiser and food. The International Alliance for Responsible Drinking shared more information on the help offered by the wider industry, who leveraged their position to donate money to support hospitality workers and medical research efforts.

Throughout the blog series, our contributors have underscored the time and money they have donated to help those in need during this difficult time. As the trajectory of the pandemic continues to chart an unknown path, the industry will continue to adapt their support and relief schemes.

Help for those most at need

Across the alcohol-related sector, producers and organisations continue to work hard to ensure alcohol is purchased and consumed in a socially responsible way and that people are aware of outlets that offer support and alternatives, should this be something they need. During the blog series, we heard from Drinkaware on the support they have offered to the minority who struggled with alcohol during lockdown, including launching a digital campaign to encourage people to introduce ‘drink-free days’ into their week. Additionally, Club Soda shined a light on alcohol alternatives which have become increasingly popular in what has proven to be a turbulent year. They also pioneered the concept of ‘mindful drinking’ which they have encouraged people to practice as they return to pubs and other familiar routines.

Thank you to our contributors

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our contributors, Drinkaware the BBPA, SWA,  UK Spirits Alliance, SAIP, IARD and Club Soda, all of whom authored valuable insights into the myriad ways those involved in alcohol have united in support. Additionally, we would also like to thank our members who provided us with information on their donations to relief efforts and what they have done to support colleagues and communities. We would also like to thank YouGov who have supported us with our extensive research into lockdown drinking trends, the findings of which informed the basis of a number of blog posts.

This isn’t really a goodbye; as the pandemic is ongoing, new restrictions, facts and findings come to light every day. We are continuing to work closely with the wider industry on responses to the pandemic. We plan to keep this series open and to include additional insights as new information and impacts become clear.

Although we will no longer be sharing bi-weekly posts, we will share updates on our social media when new blog posts are uploaded to our website. Thank you for taking the time to read and support the Responsible Actions to COVID-19 blog series. I hope that you have been as impressed as I have been at how the sector, from charities, member bodies, pubs and producers, have come together to provide support at this time of incredible challenge.

Selling safely online

John timothy, CEO Portman Group

Since lockdown restrictions were first imposed earlier this year, online sales have surged to their highest levels in the UK. This represents a third of all retail sales in May 2020, as consumers seek to shop and social distance from the comfort and safety of home.[i] This trend has been as prevalent in alcohol as other FMCG items.

Portman Group guidance to industry on responsible sampling

Here at the Portman Group, we have taken note of the trend to sell through online platforms via home delivery services. As the lockdown came in, our Advisory Service saw an increase in the number of enquiries about how to offer product samples responsibly, to enable consumers to try new products.

We created rapid guidance to aid producers during the time on how to allow for sampling / tasting via online sales. Our guidance says that promoters should only offer samples to people who are over the age of 18, and if in doubt ask for proof of age (driving licence, passport or PASS-accredited proof of age card). If proof of age cannot be supplied, and companies have any doubts as to whether the person is over 18, then they should politely refuse to offer them a sample.

However, we recognise that as promoters increasingly turn to online sales and home delivery under the current social distancing guidelines traditional forms of age verification may not be possible.

Of course, it’s not unusual for alcohol to be delivered to people in their homes as part of their grocery shopping, and retailers will ensure that they do not sell alcohol to under-18s through their home delivery services.  However, when a product sample is offered for free, on request, and delivered to the doorstep, there’s a risk that it might be supplied to under-18s.

Whilst, most deliveries are contact-free, if companies want to send samples to consumers at home, then they should make sure that they have a reliable way to check the age of the person who receives the sample.

If they feel that they cannot do that at the moment without breaking the social distancing guidelines, we advise that these companies should delay their promotions until they are able to do it responsibly.

The wider context

This is an issue that the industry is alive to, as illustrated by the responsible way in which many companies reach out to our Advisory Service and follow Portman Group guidance when developing promotions.

Reassuringly there is little evidence that many young people are trying to obtain alcohol online, although this remains an area with limited official data. The latest Government data from Northern Ireland suggests that only 0.4% of minors who had ever had an alcoholic drink had bought alcohol online, [ii] .

It is illustrative that alcohol retailers, producers and delivery companies take the risk seriously have actively invested in systems to ensure that alcohol does not fall into minors’ hands. Yet it is an area of developing policy and the sector is busy working through potential elements to online sales to anticipate changes and respond with suitable safeguarding tools.

The alcohol industry takes the issue of combatting underage drinking seriously

At a global level, the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking is developing global standards for the online sale and delivery of alcohol as well as further measures with the major digital platforms and the use of influencers. This is part of ongoing efforts to prevent minors from seeing online alcohol marketing as well as steps to give all users the choice whether they see alcohol marketing online.[iii] Furthermore, the industry in the UK is also continuously exploring how to strengthen systems to ensure sales to minors do not take place, as can be seen in the development of new digital age verification standards by the National Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS).

In the UK, the nation’s retailers work through the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group. They have published guidance to help companies responsibly sell alcohol online and deliver to homes. This includes calling for delivery drivers to be trained to operate Challenge 25 – seeking age verification from anyone who looks under the age of 25.

The future

Whilst the initial evidence suggests that this issue has not proved to be a significant problem, it is reassuring that the sector continues to act responsibly and plan for the future. We can already see many in the sector actively developing measures to take advantage of new technologies to continue to ensure that alcohol isn’t sold to minors, whether that is through online sales or point of purchase.

Once again, the circumstances of COVID-19 have shone a light on consumer behaviour. It is clear that the sector takes it responsibilities to preventing under-18s from consuming alcohol seriously and ensuring that best practice and guidance keeps pace with trends.

[i] Office for National Statistics: Shopping may never be the same again, June 2020

[ii] Northern Ireland Department of Health: Young persons behaviour & attitudes survey, September 2020

[iii] IARD press release, January 2020 / IARD press release, November 2019

No-alcohol products – Mindful drinking in lockdown

Laura Willoughby MBE, Co-founder, Club Soda

The impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown seems to have had quite a varied effect on people’s drinking habits. For some, the understandable stress and anxiety has led to an increased intake of alcohol. For others, the change in lifestyle has given them the opportunity to make changes to their lives, including taking control of their drinking.

A study by Alcohol Change showed that a considerable number of people (7%) have stopped drinking completely during lockdown – that would equate to over three million people! Yet our own study at Club Soda showed that more than half of respondents (57%) were drinking more than they had prior to lockdown.

As lockdown eases, and pubs, bars and restaurants have reopened, people are now facing the challenge of maintaining their new habits of moderation. This was summed up by a participant in our survey who said:

“It is easier in some ways because there are no bars open and no going to restaurants. I am just past 90 days sober so the re-opening will present more of a challenge for me.”

With things returning to normal, it is easy to return to familiar patterns, especially when you feel like you have been deprived of things for a while. Understandably going to the pub might be one of these. It is important to remember that it is possible to drink mindfully whilst visiting pubs, bars and restaurants. In fact, it can even be enjoyable to do so!

Choosing to stay alcohol-free or moderating your drinking when at the pub is a good way to stay aware of social distancing. As the police said, it is ‘crystal clear’ that people struggle to social distance when they are drunk. By drinking mindfully when you are out and about, you can help keep yourself and those around you safe.

Long gone are the days of being forced to have a sugary fizzy drink when choosing not to drink alcohol. Now, many venues will offer a range of non-alcoholic options, including beers, spirits and low sugar soft drinks. The Club Soda Guide is our resource to help you find locations in your area which are great places for mindful drinkers. By searching by your location, you can see the list of options that the venue serves, and how it scores out of five.

If the venue you are visiting is not listed on the Guide, it can be worth looking up their website or phoning ahead to see what non-alcoholic drinks are on offer. This helps you make a plan before you go.

Planning ahead can be a key technique to drinking mindfully when you’re out and about. It is easy to head out with good intentions, but then feel panicked into choosing an alcoholic option once you reach the bar. Knowing which non-alcoholic drink you are going to have before you arrive helps you stick to that decision.

It can sometimes be confusing about what counts as a non-alcoholic drink. Many non-alcoholic substitutes will be listed as 0.5% ABV, but not necessarily described as alcohol-free. This is because English labelling laws state that a drink has to be below 0.05% ABV to be labelled alcohol-free. However, this differs from most of the rest of the world which counts anything below 0.5% in that category. You can rest assured that a 0.5% ABV drink will not get you drunk.

You also do not have to necessarily drink a non-alcoholic option to drink mindfully. There are an increasing number of new drinks, particularly beers, that are ‘low’ ABV. These tend to be below 3% and are a great way to make sure to stay in control of your drinking, if you are more interested in moderating than having a sober night. Lower ABV drinks help you pace yourself, allowing you to enjoy your night for longer.

For many pubs and bars, it is important for them to recognise that their non-drinking customers exist. If you want to call out a venue near you for not having a good selection of non-alcoholic options, or praise one which has done well, we have developed a set of ‘nudge cards’ which you can leave.

This helps venues recognise that there are people visiting them who are choosing not to drink alcohol, which can encourage them in the future to stock even more non-alcoholic options. You can also nominate any great venues you discover to be included on our Guide, which helps other people in your area drink mindfully too.

Finally, if you are looking for some support in learning how to drink mindfully, we offer a number of different courses which can help you discover how to change your relationship with alcohol in a way that works for you.

Reflecting on seven years as Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel – Jenny Watson CBE

It has been a fascinating experience to have served as Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel for the past seven years, helping to apply the high standards of the Portman Group Code of Practice across the industry and ensuring that irresponsible or inappropriate products are either rebranded or removed from shelves if they fail to comply.

During my time in post I have overseen complaints under two new editions of the Code, most recently last year with the publication of the sixth edition. This brought significant changes to the rules and helped to further strengthen the Panel’s role. Many of these changes reflected the ways in which societal attitudes and expectations have evolved. The updated Code introduced a new core principle to protect the vulnerable, which the Panel had suggested and is a welcome addition. The Code also included a new rule on serious or widespread offence. I’m pleased that the Portman Group has been able to strengthen the guidance on immoderate consumption and there was widespread support for modifications to the rules around avoiding encouraging illegal behaviour and implying that alcohol can change mood or behaviour.

The Portman Group recently published the findings of its independent audit of market compliance with the new Code. It showed 95% adherence to the strengthened rules, and it is clear that many producers in this industry start from the standpoint of wanting to behave responsibly and do the right thing.

I wanted to share a few broad but important reflections on my time leading the Panel:

Products having particular appeal to under-18s

The Code of Practice is framed to ensure that products are only marketed in a socially responsible way and only ever to over-18s. Despite this, many of the complaints brought before us still concern whether a product is deemed to have a particular appeal to children. The emphasis is on the term ‘particular’.

At the Panel, we have sought to consider each complaint we receive seriously, on its individual merit, and, when necessary, have sought external, professional advice to better understand aspects of design aspects that can appeal to children.

We continue to see a rapidly changing alcohol industry in the UK, where new, smaller producers are attempting to design their products to stand out from the crowd and attract greater numbers of consumers. Whilst the use of bright colours, cartoonish imagery or nostalgia may not be a concern in and of itself, we have seen time and again that when used in combination, the overall design of products can be considered to have a particular appeal to under-18s.

We recognise that almost all of these breaches of the Code are unintentional and, in many cases, costly changes to labelling could have been avoided altogether if producers had used the free and confidential Portman Group advisory service when designing their products. I would urge producers – particularly small producers for whom innovation is key –  to look at past Panel decisions and to contact the advice team, in confidence and without obligation, to make sure that they don’t make the same mistakes.

Immoderate consumption

At the Panel, we also continue to see products which fall foul of the Code by promoting, directly or indirectly, immoderate consumption.

As Chair, I asked the Secretariat to the Panel to commission regular polling to gain an insight into how people drink and what impact container size and shape has, if any, on their choices. This provided a broader perspective than that of individual panel members, telling us that most UK consumers view beers and ciders with an ABV of 8% in a 500ml can as designed to be consumed by one person in a single sitting straight from the can.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone will consume the product in that way or that it must be deemed to be in breach. But our role is to help the industry to manage risk and ensure individual products don’t bring the whole sector into disrepute. This evidence is extremely important to our decision-making.

We have since seen several single-serve, non-resealable products containing more than four units fall foul of the Code when viewed as promoting immoderate consumption and making a virtue of their higher strength which could have particular appeal to vulnerable consumers.

The Panel cannot seek to limit the commercial freedoms of producers to create higher strength products, but I firmly believe that producers have to work harder to design and market these products in a socially responsible manner.

From society, and responding to societal changes

Finally, I am proud that the Code of Practice and the Panel’s judgements have been able to evolve in step with changes in wider society and taking account of developments in the industry. One of the advantages of self-regulation is that codes are not set in stone but can adapt much more quickly than legislation and the Portman Code of Practice is no exception. The Panel has been able to apply the principles in the Code to many different products and to do so in the context of our changing understanding of alcohol related harm.

It would be remiss of me not to thank my fellow Panel members over the years for their independence and sound judgement. Drawn from a range of areas including education, youth work, the charity sector, legal services, health, marketing, hospitality, and those with previous experience in the alcohol industry – my colleagues have been both professional and motivated by a personal conviction to minimise the risk of alcohol-related harm. It has been a pleasure to work with them all.

I know that the Panel’s work is not always welcomed by those who would prefer statutory regulation. But I have confidence that the Panel will continue to be independent and do its upmost to uphold the Code fairly and effectively, and I will watch with interest to see how their work develops.

Rising supermarket sales mask overall decline in alcohol sales during lockdown


John Timothy, CEO Portman Group

As the country was just entering a nationwide lockdown in response to COVID-19 we all became familiar with photos of shelves stripped of products. Along with baskets filled with toilet paper, eggs, flour, bread and milk, news articles were keen to point out that consumers were stocking up on their favourite tipple whilst preparing for a long stay at home.

You could be forgiven for thinking that alcohol sales rose during lockdown. However in reality overall alcohol sales fell drastically. This was due to a combination of the pubs and bars closing and the impact of COVID-19 on British drinking patterns causing many to cut their alcohol intake.

COVID-19 has led many Brits to cut down

Our most recent survey with YouGov in August 2020 suggested that just over a quarter of UK drinkers were currently drinking less alcohol compared to before lockdown and around 7% had cut out altogether. A similar picture emerges when analysing 22 polls conducted since the start of lockdown, with around a quarter of Brits cutting down their alcohol consumption.[i]

Furthermore, around 46% of alcohol sold in the UK occurred through the on-trade – pubs, bars and restaurants. Whilst some consumer spending has undoubtedly shifted to supermarkets, with sales through the major retailers rising to £1.9bn during the lockdown[ii], it has not been enough to make-up for the drastic shortfall which was caused by the closure of pubs and bars during lockdown.

Overall alcohol sales have fallen

Figures from Nielsen Scantrack and the CGA suggest that the total volume of alcohol sold during lockdown (the 17 weeks to 11 July 2020) fell by over a third to 1.3bn litres, compared to 2bn sold during the same period in 2019.[iii]

Commenting, Nielsen senior client business partner Gemma Cooper challenged the perception that Brits were drinking their way through lockdown, saying “Without being able to go out or socialise with others during the peak of the pandemic, and no access to dine-in pubs or restaurants, we have seen a natural decline in alcohol consumption even as at-home drinking increased.”[iv]

The Nielsen figures are further reinforced by data from HMRC which shows that there has been a £151m drop in alcohol duty receipts in the period from January to July 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, highlighting the overall fall in alcohol sales.[v]

This has led to market research agency Mintel to predict a £7 billion fall in overall alcohol sales for the year, from £49bn in 2019 to around £42bn in 2020, due to the closure of UK hospitality.[vi]

Separately, whilst retail alcohol sales have risen, sales in supermarkets and off-licences should not be seen as a proxy for immediate consumption such as in the on-trade, where the vast majority of products are consumed shortly after sale on premises. Consumers in the off-trade buy products to consume later over a longer period of time. This is reflected in broader shopping trends witnessed during lockdown, where consumers visited supermarkets less frequently, but were buying more, increasing the size of their shopping basket.[vii]

Consumers continue move towards premium product and low and no alcohol

Furthermore, COVID-19 has accelerated previous ‘premiumisation’ trends in the UK, where consumers were purchasing less alcohol but spending more on higher end ‘premium’ brands. Kantar data indicates that 70% of premium brands grew their category share over lockdown compared to the same period in 2019.[viii] Previous upward trends on sales of low and no alcohol alternatives have also continued this year, with a 30% increase in low and no alcohol supermarket sales compared to 2019, rising to £188m.

Therefore, we should take the alcohol retail sales figures trumpeted in the press with a pinch of salt, as they only show a partial view of the overall market. The evidence so far suggests that overall alcohol sales in the UK have fallen, driven by the closure of UK hospitality and changing drinking patterns, and could fall further yet as the UK looks towards further restrictions on both UK hospitality and off-sales this Autumn and Winter.[ix]

[i] Portman Group: Post-lockdown trends: The moderate majority continue to drink responsible, as Brits cautiously return to pubs, 28 September 2020

[ii] The Drinks Business: UK’s overall consumption of alcohol halved during lockdown, data finds, 7 September 2020

[iii] The Drinks Business: UK’s overall consumption of alcohol halved during lockdown, data finds, 7 September 2020

[iv] The Drinks Business: UK’s overall consumption of alcohol halved during lockdown, data finds, 7 September 2020

[v] HMRC Alcohol Bulletin, 28 August 2020 – Based on the latest provisional statistics, which could be reviewed due to late payments.

[vi] The Times: Beer sales rose in lockdown, and yet we drank less, 27 July 2020

[vii] BBC News: The weekly shop is back in fashion, says Tesco boss, 28 April 2020

[viii] Kantar: Alcohol consumption: examining purchase patterns during lockdown, 3 August 2020

[ix] Harpers: Low and no sales on the rise, 7 September 2020

Global leadership – alcohol producers step up to help

Henry Ashworth, President, International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD)
Working together against COVID-19:

The world’s leading beer, wine, and spirits producers are helping tackle the global pandemic, as part of a whole-of-society approach.

These are exceptional times and the COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented global challenge of protecting lives while also safeguarding livelihoods and communities. Only a whole-of-society, united, and collaborative approach can deliver an effective global response.

IARD’s members are the world’s leading beer, wine, and spirits producers; they were determined to play their part in supporting global efforts against COVID-19, while maintaining their commitment to the hundreds of thousands of people worldwide that they employ – and the many millions of businesses they support – in the value chain across agriculture, production, distribution, retail, and hospitality sectors.

And so, all our members have used their unique resources and positioning to help tackle COVID-19 globally and support the communities and workers affected by the pandemic, with a wide variety of initiatives[1], including:

  • Supplying over 700 million bottles[2] of hand sanitizer to help address the global shortage
  • Giving over $125 million (£97,219,691) of support for the hospitality industry and its workers
  • Providing more than $40 million (£31,110,301) of additional financial contributions: the majority of this is directed towards healthcare, research, and community relief efforts
  • Taking action on six continents

These initiatives and actions are only possible due to partnerships among public, private, and civil society sectors, which can achieve greater impact than any sector working alone.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) jointly called on the private sector and national governments to collaborate to fight against COVID-19. And IARD’s members are committed to keep working in partnership to do so: helping protect communities across the world and fight COVID-19, as part of a whole-of-society approach. In particular, they are working in partnership with governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to deliver help where it is most needed.

Also, all IARD’s members are supporting workers in the hospitality industry, many of whom are facing financial hardship and job losses due to the pandemic. The hospitality sector has been among those most severely impacted by shutdowns, yet it has never been more valued or missed.

When cafés, restaurants, and bars around the world suddenly closed, it brought into sharp focus not just how many livelihoods depend on these venues, but also how vital they are to the social fabric and emotional wellbeing of communities. Indeed, a YouGov poll for IARD[3] showed that socializing in bars and restaurants was missed the most during shutdowns, second only to spending time with friends and family.


Now, as many governments across the world allow venues to reopen, IARD’s members are working together with all key partners to rebuild a safe and thriving café, bar, and restaurant culture that can flourish despite the uncertain times we currently face. A whole-of-society response can once again create the thriving, welcoming environment that has been missed by many, and is so important to our social wellbeing.

To help achieve this, our members are working alongside retailers and other business partners to support appropriate physical distancing measures and promote best practices in both responsible service and hygiene as venues reopen.

And, as we eventually emerge from this pandemic, our members will continue constructive dialogue with experts, international organizations, civil society, and national governments to better understand what they can do to raise standards and protect lives, livelihoods, and communities.

However, there is still a long road ahead of us and new sets of challenges are certain to arise. IARD’s members are well-positioned to respond and adapt as needs change because of their global supply chains, strong manufacturing capabilities, and employment potential. They are determined to keep contributing to the fight against COVID-19 and helping protect communities across the world, as part of a whole-of-society approach.

Read more about IARD’s tackling of COVID-19 here.

The International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to addressing harmful drinking worldwide. It is supported by the leading global beer, wine, and spirits producers, who have come together for a common purpose: to be part of the solution in combating harmful drinking. To advance this shared mission, IARD works and partners with public sector, civil society, and private stakeholders. For more information on our membership and what we do, please visit

IARD’s members are Anheuser-Busch InBev, Asahi Group Holdings, Bacardi, Beam Suntory, Brown-Forman, Carlsberg, Diageo, Heineken, Kirin Holdings Company, Molson Coors, Pernod Ricard, and William Grant & Sons

[1] The figures and actions throughout the case study were accurate as of July 31, 2020.

[2] For this calculation, bottle size has been standardized to 250 ml.

[3] 54% of survey respondents missed socializing and dining out at restaurants or bars, second only to socializing with family and friends (64%). Figures are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 11,678 adults in Australia, South Africa, Mexico, France, United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, and New Zealand. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th and 21st May 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all country adults (aged 18+).

‘Cheers’ – the Scottish campaign to support the safe re-opening of pubs and bars


This awareness raising social media campaign to support consumers to return safely to Scotland’s pubs and bars produced more than 2 million unique views and drove traffic to the official Scottish Government advice site.

The campaign was run by the Scottish Alcohol Industry Partnership (SAIP), a partnership of alcoholic beverage producers, producer organisations and representatives of the on-trade and off-trade in Scotland which includes:

It provides a platform for the Scottish alcohol industry to promote responsible drinking and contribute towards tackling harmful drinking.

In addition to this campaign, the SAIP runs three major programmes, namely the promotion of the 125ml wine measure in the on-trade, the ‘You’re Asking For It’ campaign to tackle proxy purchase and Drinkaware at Work campaign in collaboration with Drinkaware to support employees in making informed choices about their drinking.

The Campaign

The on-trade (pubs and bars) in Scotland fully re-opened on 15 July.  To support that re-opening the SAIP developed a consumer campaign to run across social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The aim of the campaign was to welcome consumers back to the pub; to build reassurance that it is safe and explain how the experience will be different. The overall message is ‘Scotland’s bars are open again but ‘drinking responsibly’ has additional meaning.’

This overarching message was supported by the following key messages:

  • Respect physical distancing.
  • Listen to advice from staff and follow the guidance on notices i.e. capacity will be reduced and access in and out may be controlled. Accessing the bar and placing your order will be different.
  • Use contactless or app to pay.
  • Provide your contact details.
  • Wash your hands regularly and use hand sanitiser stations where provided or bring your own.
  • Do not go to the pub if you have COVID-19 symptoms.

The campaign uses the familiar phrase ‘cheers’ associated with socialising and uses it to acknowledge and thank consumers for their co-operation in advance in keeping everyone safe the next time they venture to the pub.

The key messages were developed into an animation and supported with three shortened versions which focussed on:

  • ‘Before you go’ (cheers for booking a table if you can and being prepared to give contact details when you arrive …but if you have COVID-19 symptoms, please stay home for now).
  • ‘When you arrive’ (cheers for providing your contact details, being patient if there are queues and respecting physical distancing …but if you have COVID-19 symptoms, please stay home for now).
  • ‘When you’re there’ (cheers for…listening to advice from bar staff…being patient if there are queues, washing your hands and using sanitiser, ordering, paying and enjoying yourself safely).

In addition to these animations, posts focussed on responsible drinking and paying attention to staff. To view an example of the animations, click here.

The campaign links to the Scottish Government web page which provides guidance to consumers:

The first burst of the campaign ran from 13 – 27 July.

Building on the first burst, the campaign was reviewed to take account of the evolving situation. It was updated to focus on compliance, to emphasize that although bars and pubs have reopened the virus is still with us and therefore it is important to follow the guidelines, we’re all in this together.

It highlighted that providing your contact details is now the law and the importance of refraining from shouting or singing as projecting your voice increases the threat of the virus spreading. The second burst of the campaign ran from 21 August – 4 September.

Through burst 1 and 2 the campaign had a total reach of 3,171,660 (this figure excludes Twitter).

We are delighted that the industry has come together to create a campaign with such reach and impact to help bring confidence to pub goers and to help people safely enjoy a drink. Cheers!

Community approaches to COVID-19 during and since the lockdown


The Covid-19 pandemic has presented many challenges for the UK and has had a worrying impact on communities across the country. The UK Spirits industry felt, from the very start of the pandemic, that we had a strong role to play to support our communities during such a time of need.

Distilleries of all shapes and sizes answered the call as the pandemic began to take hold in Britain. Our distilleries are not just businesses, they are families, run by people who take pride in both their products and serving their communities.

These efforts have not been concentrated in just one place, or by one company, support has come from every corner of the United Kingdom. From the Scottish Highlands to the South East, our members have been supporting UK public services, producing hand sanitiser, donating millions to back the hospitality trade and supporting the communities in which we operate.

However, all communities face different challenges, and one size doesn’t fit all. Many members have taken their own approaches, using their own unique knowledge of their areas and capabilities, to best support residents.

Hand sanitiser in Yorkshire and the Scottish Highlands

In March, Cooper King Distillery in Yorkshire switched production from gin to hand sanitiser to help tackle the spread of Covid-19. Responding the national shortage of hand sanitiser, the distillery moved quickly to help out.

In only five days, Cooper King researched, developed and produced the first batch of their hand sanitiser. First, they reached out to support their local community, but as demand grew, they increased production and donated to over 60 organisations across the UK, including care homes and doctors’ surgeries.

This approach has been adopted by many other distilleries like Badachro, who created 65% alcohol hand sanitisers to support local care firms, food banks, charities and front-line services in the Scottish Highlands. These distilleries have been the recent beneficiary of the UK Spirits Alliance Community Awards, which recognise the contribution that so many have made to support the UK during this difficult time.

Community Support in Dorset and Aberdeen

But it isn’t just hand sanitiser, distilleries have been working non-stop to support their communities in other ways. Fordington Gin has built on its community ethos to support the most vulnerable in their local Dorset community by working with food banks, delivering prescriptions and backing community-centred projects.

This is where the expertise of the distillery and its skilled workforce have been put to best use. In remote rural areas, distilleries have a lifeline to vulnerable residents, while urban distilleries have used their expertise to help create a safer environment for care homes and doctors’ surgeries.

It is this local approach, with understanding of the communities in which they live and work at its heart, that has made the UK Spirits industry’s approach successful.

This is not a one off; for many distilleries, like the House of Botanicals in Aberdeen, supporting their community has been crucial to their business from day one. Their community spirit initiative has seen hand sanitiser donated to those in need and front-line workers, with a portion of the funds from their not for profit bottles given to charities and community organisations. Looking to the future The industry is proud of the efforts that everyone has made to support public services and our communities over recent months UK spirits have a crucial role to play in the economic recovery, but the industry needs support in the coming weeks and months.

The Government can support and enable this contribution to the economy by ensuring a fair and stable excise duty structure which supports our iconic national products. Through a package of measures, including a positive review of the duty system which introduces fairness into the system for spirits, alongside duty and VAT cuts on alcohol, the Government will be backing the industry to continue to deliver for the economy, our communities and colleagues.