Post-lockdown trends: The moderate majority continue to drink responsibly, as Brits cautiously return to pubs

John Timothy, CEO Portman Group

Despite the easing of lockdown restrictions, we have maintained an array of activity to ensure we continue to monitor drinking behaviours in the UK. The Portman Group has its own activity tracker measuring the impact of COVID-19 on the UK’s drinking choices and we continue to examine polls commissioned by an array of external organisation including Drinkaware, Alcohol Change UK and Public Health England to give us the broadest possible picture of what’s going on.

We have also commissioned two sets of research with YouGov, the first in May 2020 to explore drinking across the UK during lockdown. In August, we sought to explore any changes since the initial easing of lockdown restrictions across the UK and to understand whether people were returning to the hospitality sector.

We were the first organisation to explore self- reported unit intake and changes in drinking behaviour during lockdown, and repeating the research with YouGov has allowed us to retain the poll methodology and provide useful comparisons between the two surveys to understand the extent of change and identify areas of potential harm.

The moderate majority continue to drink responsibly

Our survey results refute media-fuelled fears where headlines trumpeted a so-called ‘Super Saturday’ with the reopening of pubs in England potentially fuelling increased levels of irresponsible drinking. In fact, the evidence of our research, and others, showed that the moderate majority continued, and still continue, to drink responsibly and within the Government’s low risk guidelines of 14 units a week.

88% of UK drinkers reported drinking the same (55%), less (26%) or have cut alcohol out altogether (7%) since the hospitality sector reopened compared to before lockdown. This is a large increase compared to our previous survey in May 2020, where 65% of UK adults reported drinking the same or less compared to before lockdown.

This can be partly explained by a collapse in the number of those reporting drinking more, down from 35% during lockdown to 8% post-lockdown, suggesting that any increases in consumption during lockdown have been temporary, with many drinkers returning to pre-lockdown levels.  Nevertheless, we encourage anyone concerned about their own, or another person’s, drinking to visit Drinkaware or the NHS online for free advice and guidance and would recommend that people read Drinkaware’s blog in our COVID-19 series here.

Our results also show that at a whole population-level, there appears to have been little impact on weekly unit intake compared to our last survey, with the moderate majority of drinkers in the UK continuing to drink responsibly within the Chief Medical Officer 14 unit-a-week lower risk guidelines.

This research reinforces the data available from Public Health England that, on the whole, COVID-19 has had little impact on overall unit intake, with self-reported mean weekly alcohol units consumed in all adults remaining around 11 units.[i]

Poll of polls

In terms of the broader picture across lockdown and beyond, 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.

Indeed, our previous survey in May suggesting that around a third were drinking more, appears to have been an outlier compared to the 21 other polls.

Brits cautiously return to pubs

Surveys are, of course, only able to capture a moment in time, often accurate when undertaken but quickly surpassed by events. In terms of our commentary, the rules have changed from the moment we released the details as local ‘lockdowns’ saw restrictions on socialising in pubs and bars, and nationally a ten o’clock curfew put in place across the UK. As such, the information we gathered about people returning to pubs between two and six weeks after the respective lockouts were lifted (NI the first to reopen 3 July and Wales the last on 3 August) referred to a very specific period of time. Interesting for looking at an initial public response, but maybe only ever relevant for that period. Looking at the ten o’clock closing times – and the implicit threat of further restrictions if transmission rates do not slow – means that any additional survey work of pub visits will inevitably be different.

So, with the caveat that we should be cautious in extrapolating too much for today from historic survey results, we can recognise that drinkers in the UK are cautiously returning to pubs and bars, though there appears to be differing levels of enthusiasm across the UK and between age groups. Almost half (42%) of English adults said they had returned to pubs and bars since they reopened, compared to 37% in Wales, 30% in Scotland and 26% in Northern Ireland.

The youngest generation (18-24) – so-called Generation Z – were the most likely to have visited pubs and bars since they reopened, with more than half (51%) visiting at least once. The older generation were slower to return to pubs and bars, with 36% of those aged over 45 having visited pubs and bars in recent weeks.

The hospitality sector has taken extensive measures to ensure that social distancing can occur while retaining the atmosphere that customers seek.

Whilst Government data suggests that only around 5% of infections out of the home are related to the hospitality sectors,[ii] our survey suggests that fears around COVID-19 remain a prime concern for consumers. This will likely be familiar to businesses across many industries, with recent data suggesting shopper footfall remains more than a third (34.9%) lower on UK highstreets compared to last year, whilst more than 4 in ten working adults (43%) continue to avoid the commute and to work from home and London Underground journeys remain down by 72% compared to 2019.[iii]

Other key reasons cited by those visiting less than usual or yet to return to the included the impact of social distancing measures as well as changing economic circumstances meaning that people have less money to spend, for example because they have lost their job or have previously been furloughed.

This illustrates the ongoing difficulties facing the UK hospitality trade. Data from the British Beer and Pub Association shows that more than a third (37%) of pubs in England reported that they could not break even a month after reopening. Furthermore, 25% of brewing and pub sector business said they did not feel that their business was sustainable beyond the end of March 2021.[iv]

Our findings reinforce the warnings from UK Hospitality and the British Beer and Pub Association that, despite the successful rollout of social distancing measures across the industry, additional support may be needed to help secure the long-term future of the many long-loved local pubs and bars as the sector en

[i] Public Health England: Wider impacts of COVID-19 on health: summary, 27 August 2020

[ii] UK Hospitality, 22 September 2020

[iii][iii] Daily Mail, 1 September 2020 / City AM, 3 September 2020 / Telegraph, 3 September 2020

[iv] British Beer and Pub Association: More than a third of pubs cannot break even one month after reopening, 4 August 2020

Support is needed for drinkers most at risk of harm from alcohol, says Drinkaware

Adam Jones, Director of Partnerships, Business Development and Public Affairs, Drinkaware

Last week, Drinkaware published its annual impact report, which shines a light on our activities and impact throughout 2019. From community interventions to large-scale awareness campaigns, Drinkaware reached more than nine million people through our website and social media alone, and 1.2 million people used our online tools to better understand the impact of alcohol on their lives.

Compiling the 2019 impact report in 2020 has demonstrated how Drinkaware focused in on people most at risk from alcohol and how we grew our understanding of harmful drinking behaviours across the UK. Reflecting on our activity through the lens of the coronavirus pandemic has made us aware that sharpening our focus in this way has probably never been more relevant.

Our CEO, Elaine Hindal, put it simply in her introduction to the report when she said: “Given the unprecedented events of this year, Drinkaware is more aware than ever of the importance of the work it does. While we are yet to fully understand the extent of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on alcohol use, we are clear that the need to continue to reach those most at risk of harm is likely to be greater than ever.”

It is too early to predict the long-term impact of the pandemic on drinking levels, however it is crucial that we examine the evidence we have and take action to support people in the short-term while looking at ways to prevent alcohol harm in the future. Drinkaware’s own studies throughout the lockdown period consistently showed that a proportion of the population had been drinking more than they would usually, and a significant number of people displayed worrying drinking habits[i] [ii].

For many people, the pandemic will have exacerbated emotions and may continue to make aspects of life more challenging to deal with. And we know from our own research, and a recent report from the charity, Mind[iii], that many people drink alcohol as a coping strategy[iv].

Last month we published a study[v] that found certain groups appeared to be displaying concerning drinking patterns; around two in five (38%) of people on furlough, a third (33%) of parents with at least one child and around three in ten young adults aged 18 to 34 (29%) had been drinking more alcohol since the start of lockdown. This is substantially higher than the national average where, overall, more than a fifth (22%) of people in the UK – around 11.7 million – said they had been drinking more since the lockdown began.

And those drinking more were significantly more likely to display worrying habits, such as drinking on more days than usual, having their first alcoholic drink earlier in the day, finding it difficult to stop at one drink and drinking to cope with the day.

Our concern is that these drinking patterns could become ingrained; and habits, when formed, can be hard to break. In addition, with no sign yet of the effects of the pandemic halting – in fact, many signs point towards continued disruption to life as we knew it – we continue to worry about groups of people who are most vulnerable to harm from alcohol, and their ease of access to medical or support services, or both. For example, the British Liver Trust[vi] saw an increase in calls to its helpline during lockdown, and the charity warns the UK could face an ‘epidemic of liver disease’.

While we found the majority of adults in the UK drank about the same or less during lockdown, it is important that we continue to monitor trends in alcohol consumption to identify the numerous individuals who need support to cut back. There is a spectrum of short- and long-term health conditions, as well as social consequences, that occur as a result of drinking, and Drinkaware is determined to reach as many people as possible who may need our support.

Later this month, Drinkaware will be launching a digital campaign to encourage people who have had more to drink than they usually would over the past few months to take more drink-free days every week. And in November we will publish our annual report into drinking behaviours and habits to help us understand the impact of alcohol. In addition, Drinkaware will continue to provide, and invest in, the most relevant tools to help people cut down on their drinking, while we work hard to push alcohol harm prevention higher up the government’s agenda.

Drinkaware has an online self-assessment questionnaire that can help identify whether your relationship with alcohol is risky to your health:










Portman Group research shows Brits moderated their drinking while in national lockdown


Since lockdown measures were first imposed back in March, we at the Portman Group have been eager to see how extended isolation and social distancing has impacted the drinking habits of people across the UK. Looking to gain a developed insight, we worked with YouGov[i]  and commissioned our first poll to look at a baseline for weekly drinking and the changes that followed during lockdown.

We seek to be transparent with the results of our research, so you can view the full study here. In summary, the results of this study, conducted in May 2020, showed:

  • Overall, the majority of Brits were drinking the same or less compared to before lockdown, with a large majority remaining within the UK Chief Medical Officers’ 14 units a week low risk drinking guidelines. Even among those drinking more, close to half remain within these guidelines. Since June, these numbers have only improved, as we will detail in an upcoming blog on our second survey.
  • Prior to lockdown, 75% of UK adults said they either did not drink or drank within the CMO’s guidelines of 14 units per week. This equates to 6 pints of 4% ABV beer or 6 glasses of 13% ABV wine a week.
  • When asked if their drinking had increased or decreased since lockdown, two thirds (65%) of Brits who drank alcohol before the lockdown said that they were drinking the same, less or had stopped drinking altogether.
  • A large majority of drinkers remained within the low risk guidelines, including 81% of those drinking less and 72% of those drinking thereabouts the same. Even among those who were drinking more, close to half (44%) remained within these guidelines.
  • When those who are drinking less were asked about how they are moderating their intake of alcohol, 18% said they were intentionally limiting their purchase of alcohol in shops and 10% are incorporating alcohol-free days into their week.

This research builds on a number of other initial surveys from YouGov, CGA, Alcohol Change UK, Drinkaware and the Institute for Employment Studies, which consistently show that there has not been a spike in alcohol consumption under lockdown. Taken together at the time, it appeared that around 4 in 5 Brits were drinking the same, less or stopped during lockdown, with around a third drinking less and 1 in 5 drinking more.

This appears to support evidence that the lockdown resulted in decreased alcohol sales in supermarkets. Despite media articles highlighting increased supermarket sales, retail sales were more than offset by a collapse in sales in pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants. Tellingly , initial alcohol duty receipts published by HMRC, which reflect all sales, show a fall in receipts of 17%, immediately after lockdown was imposed, from £1.74bn in March-April 2019 to £1.44bn in March-April 2020.[ii]

For more stats on UK consumption rates view our fact sheet.


Whilst our results show that not all increases in drinking should be a cause for alarm, we must be mindful that there remains a minority who continue to drink at high risk levels and have actually increased their consumption.

Our shared efforts need to focus on tackling hazardous drinking and those struggling with alcohol dependence or those on the brink of dependence. There is a real risk this has been exacerbated by the pandemic cutting off social and professional support as well as further economic pressures. Excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous and its effects should not be downplayed.

People drinking at hazardous levels need professional support to overcome what are often multi-faceted challenges. We would encourage all those concerned about their drinking, or about the drinking of someone around them, to seek help from a health professional or visit for free support and practical advice.


The hospitality industry prepared diligently for the reopening of the sector, with pubs asking customers to adhere to new social distancing measures such as using hand sanitiser on arrival and ordering via app systems.

We were cautiously optimistic that moderate drinking patterns would continue. Polling from the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking suggested that half (50%) of Brits intended to maintain their new drinking habits, with 35% expecting to return to pre-lockdown habits.[iii] We have since conducted further research with YouGov on the reopening of the pubs which is evidenced that this was largely the case. We will look to explore these issues further in a future blog post.

Our first survey with YouGov on lockdown drinking habits reinforces the pattern of evidence from other research suggesting that the UK is, and largely continues to be, a nation of responsible drinkers.


[i] YouGov surveyed 2,070 adults from across the UK online between 22 May and 26 May 2020. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.

[ii] HMRC – Alcohol Bulletin, May 2020

[iii] IARD June 2020


The Scottish WhiskY Industry’s contribution to the Production of Hand Sanitiser


In March, the Scotch Whisky industry mobilised quickly in the support of health services, emergency services, local communities and other industries to play their part in providing hand sanitiser and ethanol. As a key ingredient in the manufacture of medical grade hand sanitiser, high-strength ethanol was in high demand throughout the public and private sectors as they worked to keep colleagues, patients and customers safe. Distillers of all sizes were keen to support those on the frontline of fighting coronavirus and keeping the country going, wherever they could.

In the early stages of the UK-wide lockdown, the Scotch Whisky Association’s (SWA) Industry team worked closely with government and relevant authorities to understand the specific rules and controls surrounding the production of hand sanitiser from ethanol. This was crucial in speeding up the process of getting ethanol and hand sanitiser distributed safely.

The SWA set up an online portal, aimed at efficiently linking Scotch Whisky distillers, related industry suppliers and distribution partners and organisations seeking hand sanitiser. The portal connected distillers producing hand sanitiser or high strength ethanol with those who could provide key ingredients, other supplies – such as bottles, pump-action closures and labels – and companies willing to help distribute sanitiser to organisations and communities in need.

The response to the SWA’s hand sanitiser portal in its first few months was phenomenal: over 170 organisations submitted their details from throughout Scotland and the UK. At its peak, pledges made via portal totalled more than 1.5 million litres of high-strength ethanol every week, which is enough to produce a bottle of sanitiser for every household in the UK. The portal remains live on the SWA website, and is available to link suppliers with those who need it as the country starts to return to the workplace, schools, community health services.

In March, Diageo pledged to enable the creation of more than eight million bottles of hand sanitiser, by donating up to two million litres of alcohol to manufacturing partners, to help protect frontline healthcare workers in the fight against Covid-19. In Scotland, Diageo distributed more than 55,000 bottles of free hand sanitiser to communities where the company has distilleries and operations, including care homes, care in the community staff and people volunteering to help the vulnerable. Ewan Andrew, President, Global Supply and Procurement at Diageo, said: “This initiative has very much been driven by our people at our sites the length and breadth of Scotland who want to contribute locally in their communities, especially those who are in the frontline of this crisis. I am extremely proud of every employee and our suppliers who have contributed to this project, from the scientific and regulatory teams who developed the process through all the colleagues working to make and distribute it to the community.”

Niall Mitchell, UK Operations Director for Bacardi, whose six Scotch Whisky sites produced over 15,000 litres of hand sanitiser for distribution to frontline workers in Scotland, said: “Our Dewar’s whisky operations centre in the East End of Glasgow and our distilleries across Scotland are proud supporters of their local communities, so supplying hand sanitiser to local healthcare workers and charities like the Scottish SPCA was incredibly rewarding. As a family-owned company, doing the right thing is in Bacardi’s DNA and we’ll continue doing all we can to help make a difference in the fight against COVID-19.”

Many distillers also committed to manufacturing hand sanitiser on-site for their local communities, which was particularly important in Scotland’s rural towns and villages. For example, Whyte & Mackay supplied hand sanitiser to the NHS and local services from its Invergordon distillery; Isle of Harris Distillers, based in the Outer Hebrides, worked closely with a local cosmetics company to make hand sanitiser for health service providers on the island.

Glasgow Distillery mobilised to produce hand sanitiser for the local community in the early stages of the UK lockdown. Co-founder Liam Hughes, said, “We produced hand sanitiser in line with guidance received from the SWA and followed a set of specific instructions from the World Health Organisation, which helped ensure all hand sanitiser meets production and labelling requirements.

“Over the course of a matter of weeks, we distributed 11,000 litres of hand sanitiser in 2.5L containers to over 400 NHS services, charities and organisations including hospital wards, care homes, police services, GP surgeries, mental health services, Alzheimers Scotland and many more.”

In May, Chivas Brothers became the first pro-bono supplier of hand sanitiser to NHS Scotland, and the company have donated over 163,000 litres of hand sanitiser free of charge to the NHS and local communities. Chivas Brothers also commenced employee-led contact-free deliveries across its Scotch whisky heartland of Speyside and on Orkney, where its Scapa distillery is located. Employees from the Miltonduff distillery delivered to charities and organisations supporting the vulnerable using Chivas fleet vehicles.

The Scotch Whisky industry’s response to Covid-19 was a collective effort, and the SWA’s portal figures demonstrate just a fraction of what was done at local and national levels to supply sanitiser and ethanol to those who needed it urgently. Scotland’s distilleries and skilled workforce helped to make a real difference in the fight against the virus.

Alcohol producers stepped up to support the industry and community during the COVID-19 lockdown

John Timonthy, CEO POrtman Group

The world continues to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and this trying time saw alcohol producers big and small play their part to support frontline healthcare workers, the industry and local communities impacted by the closure of pubs and bars during lockdown.

The alcohol industry was quick to formulate its response to the pandemic, reacting to the urgent shortage of hand sanitiser and disinfectant. Many producers made their ethanol supply immediately available for the production of these products. To date, our members produced over 1.3 million litres of high-strength alcohol. That’s enough to fill over 27 million bottles of hand sanitiser, meaning almost half the UK population could have a bottle each. In further support of the pandemic relief effort, our members spent at least £13 million to directly support people impacted by COVID-19, this includes local communities and those working in the hospitality industry.

The efforts shown by producers and groups across the industry is truly commendable and has made a valuable impact during these unprecedented and challenging times.

Just some of the actions taken by Portman Group members in response to COVID-19 include:

  • Aston Manor Cider: A longstanding commitment to Grocery Aid who have launched a dedicated COVID-19 Fund. The fund is backed by £1.5m to provide enhanced support for grocery colleagues on Mental Health, Bereavement Financial Assistance and Crisis Grants.
  • AsahiAcross the world, Asahi has invested in the development of hand sanitisers. In the UK, they have donated 5,000 face masks and 1,5000 gloves and products (including low and no alcohol) to several thousand hospitals, care homes and community facilities. They have partnered with the National Emergencies Trust and committed to match-fund donations made by consumers up to £50,000 alongside committing a percentage of their online sales per case of Meantime product to their charity partner ‘Only a Pavement Away’.
  • BacardiGlobally, Bacardi has a commitment to produce more than 1.1 million litres of hand sanitiser. In the UK, the Laverstoke Mill distillery in Hampshire is producing a small quantity of hand sanitizers to be donated to local doctors, chemists and care homes; whilst the Dewar distillery in Aberfeldy is helping to produce hand sanitisers for the Scottish Ambulance Association among other local community groups.
  • Brown-FormanIn the UK, Brown-Forman have donated to the Drinks Trust COVID-19 Fund and launched a ‘virtual tip jar’ to support the Drinks Trust. They have also launched ‘The Lost Shift’ competition for bartenders who are currently unable to work due to the pandemic and have partnered with Healthy Hospo to launch ‘The Lockdown Lowdown’ to help support bartenders around the world maintain overall health and wellbeing during the lockdown.
  • Budweiser Brewing GroupIn the UK, they have distributed free of charge more than 10,000 litres of hand sanitiser and disinfectant to the Metropolitan Police, Gwent Police, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. They have also gifted products (including low and no alcohol) to frontline workers. Meanwhile, their ‘Save Pub Life’ campaign which allows pub goers to purchase a gift card to use at a later date and so far they have match-funded more than £824,000 to the trade and their Bud Light brand is keeping people connected with the UK’s largest virtual pub quiz.
  • CarlsbergGlobally, the Carlsberg Foundations have donated DKK 95 million (approx. £11 million) in response to COVID-19, with recipients including three internationally recognised Coronavirus research teams. In the UK, they have frozen certain payments for the on-trade, donated 580HL of alcohol from their Kent brewery to making hand sanitisers, and launched the ‘Love My Local’ platform which enables pubs, bars and restaurants to set up to offer takeaway food and drink. They have also made £10,000 available for the Northamptonshire Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to help the local community and donating bottled beers – including alcohol free – to health care workers in Northampton.
  • DiageoGlobally, Diageo has pledged to donate up to 2 million of litres of alcohol to create more than 8 million bottles of hand sanitiser to help protect key frontline healthcare workers, including 500,000 litres in the UK and Ireland. Diageo has also donated £1 million to support the wages of bartenders in UK pubs and bars and is offering free training to hospitality workers through the ‘Diageo Learning for Life: Virtual Academy’.In the UK alone, Diageo has pledged £35m, as part of its ‘Raising the Bar’ campaign, to help outlets reopen in line with the new guidance, this has involved sending out tens of thousands of kits containing PPE.
  • HeinekenIs supporting its 2,500 leased Star Pubs and Bars by suspending the collection of rent and associated charges. They are also providing support to grassroots communities through the ‘Heineken Community Fund’ in partnership with to help vulnerable people up and down the country.
  • Mast-JägermeisterIn Germany, Mast-Jäegermeister has donated 50,000 litres of alcohol for the production of disinfectant. In the UK, Jägermeister UK has made significant donations to the Drinks Trust Covid Relief Fund including through the Livery Emergency Action Fund.
  • Pernod RicardWithin the UK they have so far pledged around 200,000 litres of hand sanitiser to the NHS and local community groups. They have donated £250,000 to the Drinks Trust, through Chivas Brothers they have donated £300,000 to NHS Charities Together, donated £25,000 to the Moray Emergency Relief Fund. Pernod Ricard has also partnered with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust o offer Level 1 Spirits courses online for free.
  • SHS Drinks: To help those severely impacted by the pandemic, SHS Drinks have provided 14 foodbanks and local charities with monetary donations. This has aided the collation of care packages for households and vulnerable groups within the community. As part of their ‘Wellness Wednesday’ employee health & wellbeing campaign they have provided guidance, support and information resources to promote responsible drinking during the pandemic.
  • Thatchers: To support frontline workers in the West Country, Thatchers donated 15,000 bottles of alcohol-free cider. They also launched a £1million pledge in support of the hospitality industry and were active in their local community throughout lockdown, supporting neighbours with local deliveries of groceries and assisting in the local school meals delivery service.

The Scotch Whisky Association made a considerable contribution in the effort to produce more hand sanitiser – we will cover their work further in a later blog post.

Other trade bodies also played their part in co-ordinating support for the hospitality industry and workers impacted by the prolonged shutdown. The Wine and Spirits Trade AssociationSociety of Independent Brewers and National Association of Cider Makers have all created online hubs bringing together key pieces of advice for businesses, whilst the Campaign for Real Ale and SIBA have launched the ‘Pulling Together’ campaign to help consumers continue to support their local pubs and brewers.

Finally, the independent charity Drinkaware is encouraging consumers to drink in moderation and to be careful not to use alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety while in isolation.

These are just some of the many vital actions taken to date. Producers and trade organisations continue to work tirelessly to support those who need it most. Together, we will pull each other through this, and we encourage everyone to look out for each other and look after their own physical and mental health.


COVID-19 saw pubs play a greater role in their communities than ever before

Emma McClarkin, CEO BBPA

It’s almost two months to the day that pubs reopened on 4th July, following 15 weeks of forced closure during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Having now all enjoyed that first, glorious pint of draught beer back in our local and a classic pub dinner or two as part of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, it certainly feels like normality is starting to return to our pubs and life as a whole.

After months of not being able to see loved ones and friends, our pubs are back to what they do best – bringing us together under one roof in a safe environment. If we are being honest, after months of being cooped up in the same house with family, getting out to the pub and socialising with others is probably what many of us missed the most in lockdown!

The local pub has always been the place that brings us together. A place to talk, a place to sit and think, a place to meet others – along with playing a vital role in tackling loneliness. As life returns to a semblance of normality once more, our pubs are again doing what they have done for centuries – bringing us back together as the heart of the community.

Having to close during lockdown has been tough, not just for the industry but also for those who rely so much on their pub. But this didn’t stop our pubs from continuing to provide vital support and services to the villages, towns and cities they operate in. In fact, inspiring pubs and publicans played a greater role in their communities than ever before adapting services to become shops and take away deliveries, as sometimes the only public convenience for miles for some of our most vulnerable citizens.

The start of the lockdown for pubs on March 20th immediately saw a reaction from our locals to continue to serve their communities in innovative ways despite being closed. When Mother’s Day on 22nd March became an early COVID-19 casualty, pubs across the UK stepped up. Places such as The Cross Keys in Coleorton, Leicestershire, and The Old White Bear in Keighley, Yorkshire, delivered all their Mother’s Day lunches and dinners from their pub kitchens to their communities instead. Others, like Brawn’s Den in Durham and The Myrtle Tavern in Leeds, donated all the food they’d planned to serve to local food banks and vulnerable residents instead who were unable to shop for themselves.

As the lockdown went on, pubs continued to support their communities, all whilst facing severe uncertainty over their futures. In the middle of the crisis, pubs played an active role in supporting the NHS and staff on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19. Many pubs, such as The Plough & Harrow in Leytonstone and Lesters in Margate, donated food and drinks for NHS staff and other key workers to enjoy both on and off shift. Several others, including Greene King’s and Shepherd Neame’s managed pub operations, offered free car parking and accommodation to key workers and NHS staff during the crisis. One pub, The Clifton Arms in Blackburn, raised more than £400 in just half an hour to supply care packages to NHS staff at their local hospital and those in isolation in the local community who were unable to leave home.

As life – and our pubs – steadily start the journey back to business as usual, they are reopening to a new normal. At the BBPA we have seen our members tackle this new way of life head on, going above and beyond to make their customers feel safe, meaning they can return to their role of bringing communities together. But they are far from out of the woods yet and face a long road to recovery. Trade is down and consumer confidence still has some way to go to return to what it was like prior to the lockdown.

It would be easy to forget the vital support pubs have provided during the COVID-19 lockdown to so many. But we cannot and must not ignore their incredible efforts, and now Government needs to continue to support them in return. Granted, some very important support has been provided by Government, recognising the vital role pubs continue to play in supporting the economy and local communities. Without further support now though, it would all be for nothing.

An important step as we approach the Autumn Budget should be to cut beer duty, and I urge anyone who supports local pubs and brewers to visit and sign the petition urging the Government to support Britain`s pubs and breweries in their recovery. Doing so will help ensure the Great British Pub can continue to serve our communities for generations to come.

This blog post previously appeared in the Propel Newsletter, it can be read here:




Welcome to the first in our blog series charting the events of COVID-19 and their impact on the wider alcohol sector. Featuring alcohol charities, partnerships and industry bodies, together we seek to examine what happened during the crisis, the lessons learned and changes that could be implemented going forward to help the recovery. We are delighted to be able to shine a spotlight on the actions of a sector acting fast and responsibly during the pandemic.

The imposing of lockdown was a challenging and unprecedented measure which impacted on the daily lives of everyone in our society. As pubs, clubs and bars closed, sales of alcohol fell dramatically, but the sector responded in a robust and considered manner and demonstrated its commitment to supporting people, looking after teams, protecting pubs and contributing to the community. The blog series examines three key themes:

  • Actions during the lockdown;
  • Impacts on drinking behaviour;
  • Wider perspectives on the challenge and its impact.

Actions during the crisis

Looking at the response from the industry to the crisis, the British Beer and Pub Association will explain how pubs played a greater role in their communities than ever before, including the specific help offered to the NHS and staff on the front line. The Scotch Whisky Association their rapid response which, alongside their members and wider industry, saw, at its peak, more than 1.5 million litres of high-strength ethanol produced every week – enough to produce a bottle of hand sanitiser for every household in the UK. We also take the opportunity to share the diverse and impactful measures taken by Portman Group members who spent tens of millions of pounds on a range of schemes and initiatives to support bar workers, local community groups and research teams.

Impacts on drinking behaviour

While much has been written about the impact of lockdown on drinking behaviours in the short-term, the longer term consequences are yet to become clear. Over two blogs we will look at the research carried out during the lockdown and compare this with the information emerging as the pubs reopen. Across all of the research, it is clear that there remains a moderate majority drinking who enjoy a drink but regularly do so within the low risk 14 unit guidance. However, it is evident that a small number of drinkers increased their alcohol consumption during lockdown and we will hear from Drinkaware on how to best support those whose drinking has increased to higher levels to return to a more moderate approach.

Wider perspectives

Additionally, we look to our affiliate organisations, the Scottish Alcohol Industry Partnership and the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, for their perspectives on the impact of lockdown in Scotland and the coronavirus response in the wider world. Examining some of the unique cases and situations that have arisen, we will see how the sector has responded to the challenges to support the safe reopening of pubs in Scotland through as well as considering some of the policy pledges and actions that have taken place around the globe. We also examine the impact on sales of alcohol, drawing the latest information from the Treasury and industry data analysts to identify how large the fall in sales was over lockdown and we will look to anticipate the impact of social distancing as it limits the number of customers across the hospitality space.

Finally, towards the conclusion of our series, we will gain the perspective of ClubSoda, the leaders of the Mindful Drinking Movement, who will discuss their members experience during lockdown and the take up of no alcohol alternatives.

We expect that despite this sweep of the bodies involved in the alcohol sector, inevitably we will miss out on highlighting some of the other excellent initiatives that have occurred. If that is the case please don’t hesitate to get in touch and let us know what we’ve missed.

Over the course of the next six weeks we will show that while the range of bodies and organisations in the alcohol sector are broad and wide ranging, they have come together to work extensively and collaboratively to respond to the pandemic. This blog series intends to capture much of the action taken by responsible organisations and offer a sense of the industry’s spirit during this difficult time.

Of course, none of us know what the future will hold. Doubtless the industry will seek to build on the good work done to date as we seek to shape a future in which we can all enjoy alcohol responsibly.

In 2019 the Portman Group published the sixth edition of the industry’s ‘Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks’. In order to ensure that the industry understands and is living up to the rules we commissioned the independent auditor Zenith Global to gauge compliance across the sector.
The audit showed that 95% of products were adhering to the code, and all of those that raised concerns have now been addressed.

Background to the audit

The sixth edition to the Code saw significant changes to the rules. It was updated in response to changes in society and expectations of the industry. The update introduced a new principle to protect the vulnerable and a rule on serious or widespread offence. Other new requirements are to avoid encouraging illegal behaviour or implying that alcohol can change mood or behaviour. The new Code was supported with guidance, including updated guidance on immoderate consumption.

The independent auditors reviewed the industry to flag products which were potentially problematic under the new Code.

Audit Results

Zenith Global took a random sample of 500 products from across the country and from a variety of alcohol categories. The audit found the industry was 95% compliant. This is not only a great sign of industry wide compliance and adherence to the Code, but it is a reassuring increase from our 2012 audit which found 92% compliance.

29 products were flagged as potentially problematic by the independent auditors. We contacted the producers and gave them the option of working with us to resolve the issue or remove the product from sale. Alternatively, they could challenge the auditors’ findings and go before the Independent Complaints Panel (ICP).

Of the 29 products flagged during the audit:

• 6 related to food labelling law and were referred to Trading Standards;
• 14 were altered or withdrawn before the new Code came into force;
• 9 went forward to the ICP for review.
6 of the products which went to the ICP were found to breach the Code.

One of the key decisions made by the ICP was about Lucky Buddha, a lager flagged under the new ‘serious and widespread offence’ rule. There was a concern that the bottle would cause serious or widespread offence on religious grounds. After carefully considering the producer’s arguments, the ICP did not uphold the complaint and to this day the ICP have yet to uphold complaints on the basis of offence. An encouraging sign of the responsible way most producers choose to market their products, and the positive work of the Advisory Service who help to prevent more questionable packaging from reaching the market by working with producers directly.

Other significant decisions were against Karpackie 9% and Oranjeboom 8.5%, both strong lagers which progressed to the ICP. These were important for us because the ICP referred to the new principle that alcohol must not appeal particularly to the vulnerable. Both products were found to give undue emphasis to their higher than average strength, in a way that was likely to appeal particularly to those who were vulnerable because of heavy drinking. This demonstrates the positive impact we can have in shaping the industry approach.

All of the decisions by the ICP are published so that producers can understand the rationale of the Panel and apply this when crafting of their packaging. If you would like to find out more about the ICP’s decisions, they are all available here.


The audit has shown not only the positive impact of the Portman Group and ICP, but the strength of industry self-regulation more widely and the commitment shown by UK producers to play by the rules. We are hugely encouraged by the results.

The audit also demonstrates the value of our Advisory Service, who offer advice and training completely free of charge to any producer. The free, fast and confidential advice has ensured that many potentially problematic products have been changed before they reached the market. The service has helped producers to design better packaging and deepen their understanding the Code. We will continue to help the industry to market responsibly, so if you are a producer who would like advice, or perhaps a more detailed training session on how the Code is applied, then please contact us.

This audit has shown that our rules are widely accepted, and we are pleased the industry has continued to hold itself to a high standard through effective self-regulation. It is great news that there has been a noticeable increase in compliance since the last audit. We will keep working with producers to ensure this continues and evolve our approach to meet the changes of the future.

Read more about the audit here.

As the social responsibility body for the alcohol industry we are keen to understand how extended isolation and social distancing has impacted the drinking habits of people across the UK. Seeking to be robust, we commissioned the only study from YouGov[i] to look at a baseline for weekly drinking and the changes that followed.

We seek to be transparent with the results of our research, so you can view the full study here. In summary, they show:

This research builds on a number of other surveys from YouGov, CGA, Alcohol Change UK, Drinkaware and the Institute for Employment Studies, which consistently show that there has not been a spike in alcohol consumption under lockdown. Taken together, it appears that around 4 in 5 Brits are drinking the same, less or stopped during lockdown, with around a third drinking less and a 1 in 5 drinking more.

This appears to support evidence that the lockdown has resulted in fewer sales. Despite media articles highlighting increased supermarket sales, retail sales were more than offset by a collapse in sales in pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants. Tellingly alcohol duty receipts published by HMRC, which reflect all sales, show a fall in receipts of 17% from £1.74bn in March-April 2019 to £1.44bn in March-April 2020.[ii]

For more stats on UK consumption rates view our fact sheet.

Harmful drinking

Whilst our results show that not all increases in drinking should be a cause for alarm, we must be mindful that there remains a minority who continue to drink at high risk levels and have actually increased their consumption.

Our shared efforts need to focus on tackling hazardous drinking and those struggling with alcohol dependence or those on the brink of dependence. There is a real risk this has been exacerbated by the pandemic cutting off social and professional support as well as further economic pressures. Excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous and its effects should not be downplayed.

People drinking at hazardous levels need professional support to overcome what are often multi-faceted challenges. We would encourage all those concerned about their drinking, or about the drinking of someone around them, to seek help from a health professional or visit for free support and practical advice.

Looking ahead

As the UK plans for the reopening of the hospitality industry, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic that moderate drinking patterns will continue. Polling from the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking suggests that half (50%) of Brits intend to maintain their new drinking habits, with 35% expecting to return to pre-lockdown habits.[iii]

This survey reinforces the pattern of evidence from other research suggesting that the UK is,and largely continues to be, a nation of responsible drinkers.


[i] YouGov surveyed 2,070 adults from across the UK online between 22 May and 26 May 2020. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.

[ii] HMRC – Alcohol Bulletin, May 2020

[iii] IARD June 2020

Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel – Vacancy (June 2020)


The Portman Group was established to promote social responsibility amongst alcohol producers and to demonstrate the industry’s commitment to acting responsibly. Across the last thirty years, it has consistently sought to raise standards within the sector and to showcase best practice. As the alcohol watchdog, it regulates the promotion and packaging of alcohol through a rigorous Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks and a Code of Practice on Sponsorship, both of which challenge drinks producers to market and promote their products responsibly.

Complaints made under the Code are considered by an Independent Complaints Panel.  This Panel operates separately from the Portman Group whose role is solely to provide a Secretariat function.

The Code was launched in 1996 and has been reviewed and strengthened and is currently in its sixth edition.  It is regarded as an effective and important system of self-regulation, which commands high levels of compliance and support amongst alcoholic drinks producers and retailers in the UK.

The Independent Complaints Panel is solely responsible for adjudicating on complaints made under the Code.  The Panel has nine members, including the Chair. Details of current membership and the Panel’s decisions are published on the Portman Group website,

The other members of the Panel are appointed by the Chair and the Panel is independently constituted.

Previous Chairs have included Laurence Shurman, the former Banking Ombudsman, Lord Condon, former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and Sir Richard Tilt, former Director General of the Prison Service.  Jenny Watson, former Chair of the Electoral Commission, is the current Chair and will step down in in September 2020.

Panel Chair – role specification

The Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel will:

Neither the Chair nor any other members of the Panel represent or speak on behalf of the Portman Group or its member companies in public or otherwise. It is the Portman Group’s role to publicise the Panel’s decisions to the media, industry and other audiences.

The Chair and all Panel members are fully indemnified, individually and collectively, against any action by drinks companies who may challenge the Panel’s decision in relation to their product.

Panel Chair – person specification

The successful candidate will:

Terms and conditions

The Chair will be appointed for a three-year term, renewable for a further three years by mutual agreement.

An honorarium, currently set at £16k per annum, is paid, as are reasonable travel and other out-of-pocket expenses. The Chair is personally responsible for any tax and other liabilities.

Recruitment process

Applications are to be sent to by 17.00 on Friday 10 July 2020.  Please submit a full CV, together with a covering letter explaining how your experience and qualities meet the role and person specification above.

Please include the names and full contact details of two referees, who must have known you in a professional capacity for at least three years. Referees will not be contacted without prior agreement.

The Portman Group is committed to equal opportunities; applications are welcome from all suitably qualified candidates who meet the stated criteria. The Chair will be appointed through an open and public recruitment process in full accordance with the Governance Code for Public Appointments.

June 2020