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.
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.
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]
Henry Ashworth, President, International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD)
Working together against COVID-19:
The world’s leading beer, wine, and spirits producers are helping tackle the global pandemic, as part of a whole-of-society approach.
These are exceptional times and the COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented global challenge of protecting lives while also safeguarding livelihoods and communities. Only a whole-of-society, united, and collaborative approach can deliver an effective global response.
IARD’s members are the world’s leading beer, wine, and spirits producers; they were determined to play their part in supporting global efforts against COVID-19, while maintaining their commitment to the hundreds of thousands of people worldwide that they employ – and the many millions of businesses they support – in the value chain across agriculture, production, distribution, retail, and hospitality sectors.
And so, all our members have used their unique resources and positioning to help tackle COVID-19 globally and support the communities and workers affected by the pandemic, with a wide variety of initiatives, including:
- Supplying over 700 million bottles of hand sanitizer to help address the global shortage
- Giving over $125 million (£97,219,691) of support for the hospitality industry and its workers
- Providing more than $40 million (£31,110,301) of additional financial contributions: the majority of this is directed towards healthcare, research, and community relief efforts
- Taking action on six continents
These initiatives and actions are only possible due to partnerships among public, private, and civil society sectors, which can achieve greater impact than any sector working alone.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) jointly called on the private sector and national governments to collaborate to fight against COVID-19. And IARD’s members are committed to keep working in partnership to do so: helping protect communities across the world and fight COVID-19, as part of a whole-of-society approach. In particular, they are working in partnership with governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to deliver help where it is most needed.
Also, all IARD’s members are supporting workers in the hospitality industry, many of whom are facing financial hardship and job losses due to the pandemic. The hospitality sector has been among those most severely impacted by shutdowns, yet it has never been more valued or missed.
When cafés, restaurants, and bars around the world suddenly closed, it brought into sharp focus not just how many livelihoods depend on these venues, but also how vital they are to the social fabric and emotional wellbeing of communities. Indeed, a YouGov poll for IARD showed that socializing in bars and restaurants was missed the most during shutdowns, second only to spending time with friends and family.
Now, as many governments across the world allow venues to reopen, IARD’s members are working together with all key partners to rebuild a safe and thriving café, bar, and restaurant culture that can flourish despite the uncertain times we currently face. A whole-of-society response can once again create the thriving, welcoming environment that has been missed by many, and is so important to our social wellbeing.
To help achieve this, our members are working alongside retailers and other business partners to support appropriate physical distancing measures and promote best practices in both responsible service and hygiene as venues reopen.
And, as we eventually emerge from this pandemic, our members will continue constructive dialogue with experts, international organizations, civil society, and national governments to better understand what they can do to raise standards and protect lives, livelihoods, and communities.
However, there is still a long road ahead of us and new sets of challenges are certain to arise. IARD’s members are well-positioned to respond and adapt as needs change because of their global supply chains, strong manufacturing capabilities, and employment potential. They are determined to keep contributing to the fight against COVID-19 and helping protect communities across the world, as part of a whole-of-society approach.
Read more about IARD’s tackling of COVID-19 here.
The International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to addressing harmful drinking worldwide. It is supported by the leading global beer, wine, and spirits producers, who have come together for a common purpose: to be part of the solution in combating harmful drinking. To advance this shared mission, IARD works and partners with public sector, civil society, and private stakeholders. For more information on our membership and what we do, please visit www.iard.org.
IARD’s members are Anheuser-Busch InBev, Asahi Group Holdings, Bacardi, Beam Suntory, Brown-Forman, Carlsberg, Diageo, Heineken, Kirin Holdings Company, Molson Coors, Pernod Ricard, and William Grant & Sons
 The figures and actions throughout the case study were accurate as of July 31, 2020.
 For this calculation, bottle size has been standardized to 250 ml.
 54% of survey respondents missed socializing and dining out at restaurants or bars, second only to socializing with family and friends (64%). Figures are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 11,678 adults in Australia, South Africa, Mexico, France, United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, and New Zealand. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th and 21st May 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all country adults (aged 18+).
‘Cheers’ – the Scottish campaign to support the safe re-opening of pubs and bars
SCOTTISH ALCOHOL INDUSTRY PARTNERSHIP
This awareness raising social media campaign to support consumers to return safely to Scotland’s pubs and bars produced more than 2 million unique views and drove traffic to the official Scottish Government advice site.
The campaign was run by the Scottish Alcohol Industry Partnership (SAIP), a partnership of alcoholic beverage producers, producer organisations and representatives of the on-trade and off-trade in Scotland which includes:
It provides a platform for the Scottish alcohol industry to promote responsible drinking and contribute towards tackling harmful drinking.
In addition to this campaign, the SAIP runs three major programmes, namely the promotion of the 125ml wine measure in the on-trade, the ‘You’re Asking For It’ campaign to tackle proxy purchase and Drinkaware at Work campaign in collaboration with Drinkaware to support employees in making informed choices about their drinking.
The on-trade (pubs and bars) in Scotland fully re-opened on 15 July. To support that re-opening the SAIP developed a consumer campaign to run across social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The aim of the campaign was to welcome consumers back to the pub; to build reassurance that it is safe and explain how the experience will be different. The overall message is ‘Scotland’s bars are open again but ‘drinking responsibly’ has additional meaning.’
This overarching message was supported by the following key messages:
- Respect physical distancing.
- Listen to advice from staff and follow the guidance on notices i.e. capacity will be reduced and access in and out may be controlled. Accessing the bar and placing your order will be different.
- Use contactless or app to pay.
- Provide your contact details.
- Wash your hands regularly and use hand sanitiser stations where provided or bring your own.
- Do not go to the pub if you have COVID-19 symptoms.
The campaign uses the familiar phrase ‘cheers’ associated with socialising and uses it to acknowledge and thank consumers for their co-operation in advance in keeping everyone safe the next time they venture to the pub.
The key messages were developed into an animation and supported with three shortened versions which focussed on:
- ‘Before you go’ (cheers for booking a table if you can and being prepared to give contact details when you arrive …but if you have COVID-19 symptoms, please stay home for now).
- ‘When you arrive’ (cheers for providing your contact details, being patient if there are queues and respecting physical distancing …but if you have COVID-19 symptoms, please stay home for now).
- ‘When you’re there’ (cheers for…listening to advice from bar staff…being patient if there are queues, washing your hands and using sanitiser, ordering, paying and enjoying yourself safely).
In addition to these animations, posts focussed on responsible drinking and paying attention to staff. To view an example of the animations, click here.
The campaign links to the Scottish Government web page which provides guidance to consumers: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-consumers/pages/tourism-and-hospitality/.
The first burst of the campaign ran from 13 – 27 July.
Building on the first burst, the campaign was reviewed to take account of the evolving situation. It was updated to focus on compliance, to emphasize that although bars and pubs have reopened the virus is still with us and therefore it is important to follow the guidelines, we’re all in this together.
It highlighted that providing your contact details is now the law and the importance of refraining from shouting or singing as projecting your voice increases the threat of the virus spreading. The second burst of the campaign ran from 21 August – 4 September.
Through burst 1 and 2 the campaign had a total reach of 3,171,660 (this figure excludes Twitter).
We are delighted that the industry has come together to create a campaign with such reach and impact to help bring confidence to pub goers and to help people safely enjoy a drink. Cheers!
Community approaches to COVID-19 during and since the lockdown
UK SPIRITS ALLIANCE
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented many challenges for the UK and has had a worrying impact on communities across the country. The UK Spirits industry felt, from the very start of the pandemic, that we had a strong role to play to support our communities during such a time of need.
Distilleries of all shapes and sizes answered the call as the pandemic began to take hold in Britain. Our distilleries are not just businesses, they are families, run by people who take pride in both their products and serving their communities.
These efforts have not been concentrated in just one place, or by one company, support has come from every corner of the United Kingdom. From the Scottish Highlands to the South East, our members have been supporting UK public services, producing hand sanitiser, donating millions to back the hospitality trade and supporting the communities in which we operate.
However, all communities face different challenges, and one size doesn’t fit all. Many members have taken their own approaches, using their own unique knowledge of their areas and capabilities, to best support residents.
Hand sanitiser in Yorkshire and the Scottish Highlands
In March, Cooper King Distillery in Yorkshire switched production from gin to hand sanitiser to help tackle the spread of Covid-19. Responding the national shortage of hand sanitiser, the distillery moved quickly to help out.
In only five days, Cooper King researched, developed and produced the first batch of their hand sanitiser. First, they reached out to support their local community, but as demand grew, they increased production and donated to over 60 organisations across the UK, including care homes and doctors’ surgeries.
This approach has been adopted by many other distilleries like Badachro, who created 65% alcohol hand sanitisers to support local care firms, food banks, charities and front-line services in the Scottish Highlands. These distilleries have been the recent beneficiary of the UK Spirits Alliance Community Awards, which recognise the contribution that so many have made to support the UK during this difficult time.
Community Support in Dorset and Aberdeen
But it isn’t just hand sanitiser, distilleries have been working non-stop to support their communities in other ways. Fordington Gin has built on its community ethos to support the most vulnerable in their local Dorset community by working with food banks, delivering prescriptions and backing community-centred projects.
This is where the expertise of the distillery and its skilled workforce have been put to best use. In remote rural areas, distilleries have a lifeline to vulnerable residents, while urban distilleries have used their expertise to help create a safer environment for care homes and doctors’ surgeries.
It is this local approach, with understanding of the communities in which they live and work at its heart, that has made the UK Spirits industry’s approach successful.
This is not a one off; for many distilleries, like the House of Botanicals in Aberdeen, supporting their community has been crucial to their business from day one. Their community spirit initiative has seen hand sanitiser donated to those in need and front-line workers, with a portion of the funds from their not for profit bottles given to charities and community organisations. Looking to the future The industry is proud of the efforts that everyone has made to support public services and our communities over recent months UK spirits have a crucial role to play in the economic recovery, but the industry needs support in the coming weeks and months.
The Government can support and enable this contribution to the economy by ensuring a fair and stable excise duty structure which supports our iconic national products. Through a package of measures, including a positive review of the duty system which introduces fairness into the system for spirits, alongside duty and VAT cuts on alcohol, the Government will be backing the industry to continue to deliver for the economy, our communities and colleagues.
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 enters the Autumn and Winter period.
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: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/tools/self-assessment
Portman Group research shows Brits moderated their drinking while in national lockdown
JOHN TIMOTHY, CEO PORTMAN GROUP
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 Drinkaware.co.uk 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.