Latest results from Portman Group and UCL studies highlight continuing UK moderate majority throughout lockdowns and beyond

You may have read last week initial reports that University College London’s ongoing COVID-19 study had found that half of adults reported that they were drinking more now compared to a year ago.

Whilst the headlines were certainly startling, UCL have since confirmed that the initial press release was incorrect due to a technical error and has been retracted and updated.

In actual fact, the UCL survey[i] of over 70,000 UK adults across the UK found that 83% of adults reported either no change (65.5%) or a reduction (17.5%) in their alcohol consumption now compared to March/April 2020. Instead of half, only around 17% of adults reported they had been drinking more.

These results fit with the results of our most recent poll with YouGov, where 73% of UK drinkers said that they were either drinking the same or less since the beginning of the pandemic compared to previous years. In our poll close to a third (32%) of UK drinkers said they had reduced their alcohol consumption, whilst just over a quarter (26.3%) said they were drinking more[ii].

Adding the latest data to our tracking of 33 publicly available polls from the start of the pandemic, commissioned by groups such as the Portman Group, Public Health England, Drinkaware and Alcohol Change UK, shows that over three quarters (77%) of UK adults are drinking the same or less over the past year.

Taken together around half (51%) of adults report no change to their alcohol consumption, whilst over a quarter (26%) report drinking less and under a quarter (23%) report drinking more.

Increases in consumption should also be placed in context, with the Portman Group’s latest and previous polls suggesting that many who are drinking more still remain within the Chief Medical Officer lower-risk guidelines. The latest UCL research also provides some encouraging news that 40.1% of UK adults drinking over the Chief Medical Officer guidelines of 14 units per week had decreased their drinking.

However, our latest findings also echo previous concerns that increases over the past year have been fuelled by those already drinking at heavier and more harmful rates[iii]. The reasons for this increase are likely multifaceted and potentially exacerbated by continued lockdown restrictions cutting off social and professional support or deterring people from seeking help in the first instance.

As we emerge from lockdown our shared efforts need to focus on tackling hazardous drinking and helping those struggling with alcohol dependence or those on the brink of dependence. 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.

Yet it is also useful to take a step back and see that the moderate majority of UK population, on the whole, drank the same or have cut down their alcohol consumption over the past year, dispelling the myth that Britain turned to the bottle during the pandemic.

[i] UCL COVID-19 Social Study Results Release 33, 23 April 2021

[ii] Portman Group: Brits return to the pub – but it’s for pals not pints, 9 April 2021

[iii] Portman Group-YouGov survey on alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 lockdown, June 2020

Running the alcohol recovery day programme during COVID-19

Ben Parker, Senior Peer Support Worker & Group Facilitator, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust

Every day I work with those who have struggled with alcohol and substance addiction. We run a ‘Recovery Day Programme’ as part of rehabilitation in the community. It helps those who have struggled with substance use to come together to develop tools for their well-being and personal growth and strategies to prevent a relapse.

Prior to the pandemic, our three-month abstinence-based programme was heavily focused on in-person contact and group work. However, the lockdown quickly changed that, forcing us to think on our feet and adapt our programme so we could provide ongoing support to our clients at a distance.

We had to think around the problem and utilise technology.

We encouraged our client’s set-up on WhatsApp and Zoom allowing us to keep the group connected. It was vital to ensure continued group support, and to stay in touch

virtually to allow meaningful interventions. Within two weeks we had successfully built an adapted programme online.

However, some were digitally excluded so we ensured that they wouldn’t miss out. We posted the group work to complete with a self-addressed envelope to return. We also ensured that these clients were called more regularly to receive support. When initial restrictions were lifted, we set up a conference facility in the office to allow for group work, while the rest of their peers met on Zoom.

It is amazing how tech can be an effective way to reach out beyond the service, and to help in its support. Given the lockdowns every one of us knows the importance of remaining in touch with our loved ones. Some people who are alcohol dependent may have lived a chaotic or unmanageable life style, resulting in difficulties with close relationships. It was truly rewarding that this time and our engagement with smartphones actually helped a client to see his Mum for the first time in a year. By showing him how to share video through WhatsApp he is now better supported at home. We are now in talks about rolling out digital devices to those who may be excluded from accessing interventions which are facilitated on a virtual platform.

This hybrid model has enabled us to better cater our support to people’s lives, allowing people to get help how best they choose – either in-person or online – whilst still allowing them to stay connected. We were extremely conscious that people didn’t lose out who couldn’t access technology, but have noticed that others, especially with childcare needs or have cultural stigmas around treatment, were more willing to participate. It has been described to me as a blessing in disguise and we have seen younger people and those with physical difficulties state that this is a better format for them. Zoom has broken down barriers.

This change, which came out of necessity, will likely become the new normal going forward.

Community Support from the Horse & Jockey, Melling

During the pandemic, our beloved family-run pub The Horse & Jockey in Melling, Liverpool, became a community-run pub offering a vital lifeline to those who needed it most. Over the past year, we have convened 50 volunteers who have supplied food, emotional support and everyday helping hands to over 300 people. We are continuing to work hard to support the most vulnerable and wanted to share an insight into our hard work throughout the pandemic as well as highlight areas for additional support.

We have built a community which has produced flyers that have been sent to over 4,000 homes. The flyers highlight the local communication channels we’ve set up to enable our important work. We have specifically targeted those that the government identified to be most at risk of COVID-19 – the over-70s and clinically vulnerable. Many of the people who fall into these categories have been isolating and therefore unable to provide for themselves, as well as being at risk of severe loneliness. Our plan was to tackle these problems by providing continued and much needed support to those most-affected by the pandemic.

We worked with local businesses and the public to provide hot meals which are delivered to those in need every evening. We’re helping people to stay healthy by picking up their pharmacy prescriptions and delivering them to their door. Perhaps most crucially, we are combatting loneliness with our ‘listening ear’ initiative which sees our volunteers picking up the phone and giving a vital call to an ever-growing list of people. These calls are a chance to have a chat and brighten up the day of someone who is struggling through this challenging time.

Our group of 50 volunteers have supported over 300 people during the pandemic. We’ve used the pub to set up our Community Kitchen, which has allowed us to put over 15,000 meals on tables. Our JustGiving page, which has received almost £6,000 in donations to date, has allowed us to keep the Community Kitchen going throughout three lockdowns.

One of the key tasks throughout the pandemic has been responding and adapting to the various rules and regulations that have come into play during each lockdown, as well as the periods in between including the tier system and local lockdowns. The varying nature of each lockdown has meant that different issues have come to the fore across each lockdown. Through it all, the Community Kitchen has continued to support local families, with recent focus turning to ensuring school children didn’t go hungry during school holidays.

During the current lockdown, even as it winds down and we ease towards our own outdoor reopening, we are continuing to support our local community as we have throughout the pandemic while working with our network of volunteers to come up with new and innovative ways to provide support to those who need it most.

Support the Horse & Jockey

If you would like more information about the Horse & Jockey, visit their website: ​

To donate to the Just Giving page, click here: Crowdfunding to Helping our local community Our focus is currently feeding the children in our community who need it most during the school holidays on JustGiving

Cooper King Distillery produced hand sanitiser in response to extreme shortage at the outbreak of the pandemic

Why Cooper King Distillery startedproducing hand sanitiser

At our York-based Distillery, business was booming, then COVID-19 hit. During the last week of March our sales plummeted, and 85% of revenue was lost overnight. We had a frantic 24 hours putting in place emergency finance plans, making calls to the bank, and insurers. This was followed by a number of enquiries from the public and key workers, highlighting the desperate need for hand sanitiser. A story of a distillery turning their hands to sanitiser production had emerged from the South of England; people wanted to know if Cooper King could do the same.

Recognising the national shortage of sanitiser, we knew we could step up and help. The ethos of Cooper King centres around environmental responsibilities, but, beyond this, social responsibility too.

Being a lean and agile company, we researched, developed, and produced the first batch of sanitiser in just five days, becoming the first distillery in Yorkshire to announce the production of hand sanitiser. This was a major undertaking. There was equipment to repurpose and materials to source, but we managed it and donated our entire first batch the following day to the local community and front-line staff.

The response on social media was incredible. It resulted in the distillery becoming inundated with requests for more product. Working through the figures helped us develop a strategy whereby sanitiser could be sold to the public and businesses, while the profits could be used to maintain a free supply to NHS, care homes and schools across the country.

In amongst the demand for more product, we have received heart-warming – and sometimes heart-wrenching – messages of thanks. Some of the organisations and people who have received donations include, hospital A&E departments, intensive care units, care homes, schools, the Royal Mail, mental health trusts, autism charities and even Mountain Rescue. In total, the distillery has donated sanitiser to 60 organisations. The impact on each organisation has been considerable – with one trust sharing that they would have had to turn away vulnerable patients if it wasn’t for the sanitiser we supplied to them.

Following our donations during the pandemic, we have been recommended for an Entrepreneurs Award by our local MP, Kevin Hollinrake.

Out of all of this, the message to take home is, there are a lot of positive stories out there of people doing good for their communities. The more these stories are shared, the more others will be inspired to help their communities during this turbulent time.

Donations List

  • Sutton-on-the-Forest Primary School
  • York A&E
  • St Leonard’s Hospice
  • Children’s Safeguarding Hambleton & Thirsk
  • Home Instead Senior Care York
  • Stillington Post Office
  • Mental Health & Vulnerable People’s Tea, for North Yorkshire
  • Leeds ICU Teaching Hospitals
  • Home Care Direct
  • Akari Care
  • Holme Valley Mountain Rescue Team
  • Royal Mail Leeds
  • UK Maritime Pilots
  • Autism Plus
  • Easingwold caregroup
  • Peppermill Court Mental Health Hospital
  • Norton CP School
  • Housing 21 Home Health Care
  • Calder valley search and rescue team
  • Occupational Therapist (York)
  • Royal Mail, Tadcaster
  • Leeds Central Ambulance Station
  • Avante Care
  • Tees, esk and wear valleys NHS foundation trust
  • Home Instead Senior Care
  • Royal Mail – Alfreton
  • Wigton Community Volunteers
  • Local farmers
  • Prestwick Care
  • Centrepoint
  • Hadrian Healthcare Group
  • Supplies for Key Workers
  • Millfield surgery
  • First Responder
  • Chase Park Neuro Centre
  • Dementia Matters
  • Bluebird Care York
  • Friends of St Monica’s Hospital
  • Bradford NHS
  • The Supper Club
  • York Road Residential Care
  • Medicine deliveries
  • Humber Teaching NHS Foundation Trust
  • Longley Park View Nursing Home
  • York Community Therapy Team
  • Safehands Homecare
  • Longley Park View Nursing
  • The ExtraCare Charitable Trust
  • Mental Health and Vulnerable People’s Team for North Yorkshire
  • Balls to Cancer
  • Ambulance Wish Foundation
  • Hampers 4 Nurses
  • Community Staff Nurses (Newcastle under Lyme)
  • Tyne Housing Association
  • Wilberfocre Trust
  • Scarborough & Ryedale Mountain Rescue
  • North Yorkshire Police
  • Gateshead Council
  • Birchlands Care Home
  • Amarna House

About Cooper King Distillery

Cooper King Distillery is a self-built, crowd-funded whisky and gin distillery near York, producing sustainable spirits underpinned by craftsmanship, honesty and adventure.

Cooper King Distillery is England’s only self-built whisky and gin distillery, and one of only a handful in the country to run on 100% green energy. Producing the first gin in Europe with 1% for the Planet® accreditation, 1 square metre of English woodland is planted for every bottle of gin sold. To date, 10,000 square metres of native woodland have been planted with charity partner the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.

The Drinks Trust – Supporting the industry’s work

The Drinks Trust is the drinks industry’s charity. Since 1886, we have provided care and support to the people who make up the drinks industry’s workforce. Today, we provide financial aid, as well as emotional support and vocational training.

The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the drinks industry cannot be overstated. The profound affect on the drinks and hospitality sector has left huge numbers of workers facing significant financial hardship which has, in turn, impact their wellbeing and emotional state. In 2020, the Trust provided support to over 5,000 beneficiaries, the vast majority of whom were directly affected by the pandemic.

How we have helped

During the course of the pandemic, we have:

  • Approved over 2,600 Covid-19 emergency grants worth £660,000.
  • Approved a further £85,000 in one-off applications for support.
  • Delivered over £1.2 million worth of support. This is in comparison to £500,000 spent in regular years.
  • Supported almost fivefold more individuals than we have in an average year.

In addition to this, we recognised the extra strain faced by the drinks industry by extending our helpline opening hours so that support would be available 24/7. All calls are confidentially answered by counsellors and clinically trained psychotherapists. The helpline offers a therapy referral scheme and the option to enter into a series of 1:1 telephone sessions on a range of topics.

The Drinks Community

We introduced a new platform, The Drinks Community, dedicated to creating connection and opportunity. This is an online member platform allowing people from the industry to share knowledge and network. It removes barriers in order to build a bridge between disciplines, specialisms and product channels across the sector.

We also have plans to launch a Mento Programme, aimed at those looking for concerted career development, support and guidance.

Support from Portman Group members

A number of Portman Group members chose to support the vital work we have been doing during the pandemic. Pernod Ricard donated £250,000 and partnered with the Wine and Spirits Trade Association to offer Level 1 spirits training online for free. Jägermeister UK also made significant monetary donations to the Trust, including through the Livery Emergency Action Fund.

Brown-Foreman donated approximately £37,000 to our charity, in addition to setting up a long-term initiative to support us. They launched the ‘virtual tip jar’, which has allowed donations to be contributed throughout the pandemic.

The support offered by alcohol producers throughout the pandemic has been crucial to propping up the drinks industry, hospitality sector and those who work within them. Portman Group members have been instrumental in offering financial support as well as other projects including training, donations of sanitiser and PPE and support for emotional well-being.

Both the Portman Group and The Drinks Trust offer enormous thanks to the businesses and organisations, including Portman Group members, that rallied to support the industry at a time of such immense need.

Information and support

If you would like more information on The Drinks Trust, or if you’re looking for support, the below links will direct you to the right place.

The Drinks Trust – visit or call 0800 9154610

The Drinks Community –

Get help – call 0800 9154610 or email

Supporting Communities – the Drink Sector’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic brought with it a set of grave and unforeseen challenges for people the world over. The imposition of lockdown and consequent shuttering of pubs, bars and clubs meant that the alcohol industry was uniquely challenged. Throughout, the industry has stepped up to responsibly respond to the needs of its staff, communities, and the public. The reach of their efforts has been staggering with pubs and producers supporting the NHS, charities, communities, and hospitality staff.  This has been done in a robust and considered manner ensuring the industry’s commitment to supporting those affected by the pandemic has remained at the core.

As the social responsibility and regulatory body for the sector, the Portman Group is uniquely placed to draw on the work and achievements of the diverse bodies, charities and companies involved in alcohol.

Last year, we ran a blog series, working with key players in the alcohol industry, to highlight the lessons learned during the first lockdown and next steps for the future. As we publish the Supporting Communities – the Drinks Sectors Response to the COVID-19 report, we are conscious that we have not reached the end point for COVID-19. Normality is still at a distance  but it is still worth  taking time for the sector to share its best practice. It will allow others to be inspired by the activities of the industry and adopt the ideas to help respond while restrictions are still in place.

This blog marks, not only the launch of our report, but also our second blog series on the COVID-19 response. We will be sharing bi-weekly case studies from those across the industry who have played an integral role in the relief effort.

Hands – Sanitiser production

One of the first challenges the industry stepped up to help solve was the shortage of hand sanitiser in the UK. At the start of the pandemic, hospitals, care facilities, businesses and homes were crying out in desperate need of sanitiser, following a 255% increase in demand (Kantar, February 2020).

Across the industry, producers donated high strength ethanol and turned their hands to creating sanitiser. The Scotch Whisky Association led the coordination of the work and provided an online hub to link whisky distilleries with related industry suppliers. It resulted in the donation of 1.5 million litres of ethanol a week at the peak of production – enough to supply each UK household with a bottle of sanitiser every week.

Face to Face – keeping communities connected

Local pubs across the country played a huge role as community hubs and lifelines to those living in isolated areas or conditions. From organising volunteers, raising money, donating food, and operating takeaway services pubs continue to offer support to local communities in this third lockdown.

To give just a few examples of the great support provided by pubs everywhere, the Cross Keys in Leicestershire delivered the Mother’s Day lunches they had going uneaten in their kitchen to families in the local area instead. The Brawn’s Den in Durham donated their surplus stock to food banks and the vulnerable. Pubs including The Horse & Jockey in Melling, The Clifton Arms in Blackburn and the Plough & Harrow in Leytonstone also took measures to help the relief effort.

Portman Group members have also donated money, time, PPE and low and no alcohol products to NHS trusts, charities, and food banks to ensure the vulnerable are supported.

Space – looking after pubs

Multiple pub closures have meant that these crucial community hubs are under threat of permanent closure. In order to protect pubs, many producers offered rent concessions, replaced unused kegs and provided protective equipment to publicans to help alleviate financial pressures.

Organisations, including the Society of Independent Brewers Association and the Wine and Spirits Trade Association, created online hubs to provide key advice for keeping pub businesses afloat. Furthermore, organisations such as the British Beer and Pub Association and UKHospitality have been making the political case for increased support.

Space – looking after teams

Staff and workforces have also faced struggle throughout this time. Many bartenders have found themselves out of work. The industry donated time and money to ensure that staff were supported both financially and emotionally.

Charities such as The Drinks Trust provided direct frontline support to thousands. From education and well-being seminars to the 24-hour advice helpline staffed by clinically trained psychotherapists they provided bartenders with practical help. They ran campaigns including the ‘virtual tip jar’ and the ‘Shaken not Broken’ initiative which has allowed individuals and organisations to continue to donate to out of work bar staff throughout the pandemic.

Space – looking after the public

By becoming COVID-19 secure during the periods in which licensed venues have been able to reopen the industry has taken every possible step to ensure that pubs became safe, and socially distanced environments.  They have been supported by member bodies and producers who stepped up to educate publicans on the guidelines.

Consumer behaviour

Reassuringly the evidence shows that the majority of drinkers continued to drink moderately and consumed the same or less alcohol as before the lockdown, with over a quarter reducing their intake. The sector is conscious of the small minority who drink at harmful levels and continued their support of charities helping people to assess their risk and seek professional support. This section explores these issues further.

Both Club Soda and Drinkaware launched supportive campaigns to offer help and guidance for the small minority who are concerned about their own drinking habits, or the habits of someone they know. These educational campaigns were tailored to specifically address lockdown-related concerns such as job loss and isolation.

With the pubs shut overall alcohol sales fell, despite an increase in retail purchases. The lockdowns also saw the acceleration and advancement of long-term alcohol trends with increased online sales. There has been nearly a third increase in the sales of low and no products and consumers buying less, but premium alcohol.

The work continues

The work demonstrated in this report shows the continued effectiveness of the self-regulatory model and the industry’s commitment to social responsibility. Despite the weight of enormous pressures, the sector has consistently stepped up to support its community, both internally and externally. The report emphasises the value of the industry, and the sector’s own need for recognition and support as the pandemic continues to pose massive challenges to the sector. While the pandemic continues, the work of the alcohol sector to support our communities will continue.

Read the full report here:


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.

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