PHE report on alcohol consumption and harm during the COVID-19 pandemic

Our response to the PHE report on alcohol consumption and harm during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes our research conducted in May and August 2020.

This research found that the moderate majority, 88% of UK drinkers, were consuming the same, less or had stopped drinking alcohol altogether, this has been consistently evident throughout the pandemic.

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:

“This report’s finding on pandemic drinking behaviour is consistent with many others. The moderate majority continued to drink the same, or less than before, while it was mainly the small minority who were already drinking at heavier rates who increased their drinking with tragic consequences – this was shown in the Portman Group and others research which the PHE cited.

“The pandemic created a perfect storm where harmful drinking was concerned.  COVID-19 restrictions appear to have cut off social and professional support to highest harm drinkers, or deterred these most vulnerable people from seeking help in the first instance. We urge the Government to renew its focus on measures aimed at supporting these people.

“On alcohol sales the volume fell by over 10% (Euromonitor 2021) as many people who drink in pubs and clubs chose not to drink or didn’t buy as much from retailers.”

The Portman Group welcomes two new members as industry support for self-regulation grows during 25th anniversary year

The Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, is delighted to welcome two new members, C&C Group plc and Mark Anthony Brands International. They are the first new members to join in 2021, the year in which the Portman Group is also celebrating 25 years of its Code of Practice. This brings the total Group membership to fourteen.

C&C Group is returning as a member after previously leaving in 2014. Mark Anthony Brands enhances the breadth of the Council membership, representing one of the foremost hard seltzer brands in the market, White Claw. Hard seltzer is a growing trend in the market.

C&C Group is a leading brand owner and largest drinks distributor in the UK and Ireland, manufacturing, supplying and marketing cider, beer, wine, spirits and soft drinks.  In the UK, C&C Group’s portfolio of owned/exclusive brands include: Tennent’s, the iconic Scottish beer brand; Magners the premium international cider brand; as well as a range of fast-growing, super-premium and craft cider and beers, including Orchard Pig, Heverlee and Menabrea

David Forde, Chief Executive at C&C Group has previously been a Portman Group Council member when he was CEO of Heineken UK and Ireland.

Speaking about joining the Portman Group, Forde said:

“Now more than ever, as we see the ramifications of COVID-19, the sector needs to come together to demonstrate that the UK alcohol  industry takes its self-regulatory and social responsibility obligations very seriously. As a regulator, the Portman Group actively helps the industry to avoid breaches of the code through guidance and training, holds the industry to account when necessary and represents the positive work of the sector to government. By re-joining the Portman Group, we are increasing our existing strong commitment to socially responsible business practices and industry self-regulation.”

Commenting on their membership of the Portman Group, Davin Nugent, Chief Executive at Mark Anthony Brands International said: “Becoming a member of the Portman Group affirms our commitment to responsible self-regulation of the alcohol industry. Our support of the Portman Group means we are becoming a part of the gold-standard of responsibility and regulation.

“We have long been dedicated to promoting the responsible serving and consumption of our products in all settings and are pleased to have this formalised.”

Speaking about the drive for new members, Chief Executive of the Portman Group Matt Lambert said: “We are especially pleased to welcome two new members to the Portman Group in this the 25th anniversary of our code of practice. It is a significant endorsement of our new strategy “We encourage producers and retailers, both large and small, to talk to us about how they too can play a full part in engaging with key policy challenges and actively supporting the self-regulatory model.”

Speaking about the AHA poll Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:

“The alcohol industry actively ensures the provision of information for consumers. For over a decade our best practice states that alcoholic drinks have ABV, pregnancy warning symbols or messages and signposting to the independent alcohol information charity Drinkaware; even the outdated 2019 AHA survey recognises that this pretty much universally appears.

“The sector made a commitment in 2019 to put the CMO’s low risk guidance on label and since that point we have seen this rolled out across a large number of products. Many in the sector have made voluntary commitments to putting calories on labels or online – no responsible company is seeking to hide information from consumers.

“A core concern with this poll is that it neglects to highlight how many consumers could correctly estimate the number of calories in a whole range of food and drink products which have calorie labelling whether it be fruit, pizzas or a salad. We suspect that this would likely match the results they found for drinking a glass of wine or beer despite the wealth of nutritional labelling present on food and soft drinks. Labelling can only be one element of educating consumers and we support accurate public health campaigns that help adults to make the best choices.”

The role

This is a full 360 degree communications role including media, social media, design and corporate comms. With a great deal of exposure to the CEO, you will be accountable to the Director of External Affairs for ensuring that PG’s web presence and media engagement is professional, engaging and accurate. You will be an exceptional story-teller, able to work with the team and weave imaginative copy for proactive and reactive content. You will find challenge in the needs of demonstrating a balanced position for the Group in a contested environment where precision is essential. You will be engaging and focused on building and maintaining PG’s relationships with trade journalists and work closely with our media agency to secure national coverage.


We believe in supporting the development of new talent. We want to support you to build on your existing responsibility for media communications, social media platforms and website content. You are likely to be a media executive for a consultancy, industry body, charity or corporate seeking a chance to develop a position of authority within the alcohol sector. You are most likely to be a graduate possibly with a communications, journalism or PR qualification, or someone with a body of work that demonstrates your ability.

You will:

  • Be experienced in media and social media communications, with an understanding of how to appeal to the audience.
  • Be an exceptional writer, knowing that you will need a high degree of accuracy and a love of the written word. You will be imaginative, creative and apply this to your copy writing in order to create precise material which people enjoy reading.
  • Likely have experience of managing, or inputting, into digital media programmes and experienced in managing core corporate platforms.
  • Likely have experience managing web content and be capable of managing WordPress and other common web tools.
  • Become immersed in the sector and have the personal presence to engage with journalists and PR/comms colleagues in the industry.
  • Have enthusiasm for being a team player in a small organisation having strong self-motivation to take the initiative to drive the web presence and media agenda.


  • CIPR/PRCA or other recognised industry qualification.
  • Knowledge of the drinks industry and of policies and practices concerned with the social aspects of alcohol. An existing network among health and business journalists would be an exceptional advantage.

Now worried that you aren’t the right person – keep reading

We are motivated to build the very strongest team and hold that success is more likely when there is diversity of thought, opinion and background.. We are taking action to make the changes we want to see. Our senior team have been involved in organisations specifically to improve diversity, whether as the founding Chairman of the Women in Communications Career Network or as CEO of the national Skills Federation.

We know that candidates re often put off applying for a job unless they can tick every box. We also know that we work in a post COVID-19 reality and ‘normal’ office hours aren’t always doable. While we can’t accommodate every flexible working request we are happy to consider flexible options.  So if you are excited about being our go-to media lead and you believe that you can do much of what we are looking for … why not have a go?

How to apply

Please send your CV and a succinct cover note explaining why you are interested to . We will be first interviewing the week com 12 July, so please apply sooner rather than later.

Good luck!


Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group – the alcohol social responsibility body and marketing regulator said:

“The study’s own researchers admit that there is inconclusive evidence that health warnings and pictorial images would have any impact on people’s behaviour. This is an extreme proposal attempting to frighten adults whose drinking is unlikely to harm their health, given that the moderate majority in Scotland drink below the CMO’s guidance of 14 units a week.

“For over 25 years the Portman Group through its Code, training, best practice and advice has ensured that alcohol is marketed responsibly and discourages depictions of negative drinking behaviours. The industry is well regulated and there is no need to waste any more government time creating mandatory labels when the vast majority of products already voluntarily show ABV, pregnancy warning labels, directions to Drinkaware and increasingly providing additional advice including the Chief Medical Officer low risk level. Instead, we should collectively focus our efforts on stronger measures targeted to help those drinking at harmful rates.”

Response to WHO Proposed Global Alcohol Plan 2022-2030

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:

We are extremely concerned by the WHO calling on countries to prevent drinking among women of childbearing age in their latest action plan. As well as being sexist and paternalistic, and potentially restricting the freedoms of most women, it goes well beyond their remit and is not rooted in science. It is wrong to scaremonger in this irresponsible way and associate women’s alcohol-related risks with those of children and pregnant people.”

We had an incredible response to this story with coverage all over the world, with a total of 29 international stories including in the USA, Ireland and Australia. In the UK our quote was used in all of the nationals, with four papers covering this on their front pages.

Response to Imperial College London study on impact of alcohol on brain, heart and liver

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:

“The UK Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk drinking guidelines were reviewed recently and the UK’s are some of the most stringent in the world. The moderate majority of UK drinkers consume alcohol below these guidelines. Based on the wealth of existing high-quality evidence, moderate drinking represents a low risk level.”

“It is important that risk is assessed fairly and considered in perspective. Exaggerating risk does nothing to encourage consumers to take a balanced approach to drinking and may prompt people to ignore any advice at all.”

Statement on OECD report on alcohol consumption in the UK

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:

“Overall, the results of this report reflect the wealth of research conducted throughout the pandemic that most people did not change how much they drank, supporting our most recent research which showed 73% of UK drinkers had consumed the same or less alcohol as before COVID-19.

“We are concerned by some of the figures relating to the UK and the policy recommendations suggested as a consequence, our focus should be targeted on the small number of people drinking at the highest levels of alcohol harm. On sales, the OECD points only to duty receipts to say that sales increased without taking into account real life sales data. Euromonitor data shows alcohol sales in the UK fell by over 10%, the second highest fall in Europe, which supports the trend seen by Public Health Scotland that alcohol sales fell overall in both Scotland and England.

“The assertions made surrounding reduced alcohol consumption and efficacy of the vaccine are particularly concerning. The MHRA confirmed that alcohol has no bearing on the vaccine’s effectiveness and any suggestions to the contrary could have damaging effects on vaccine uptake.”

Statement on ONS data regarding alcohol-specific deaths

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:

“The ONS figures are tragic and highlight the devastating impact the past year has had on those drinking at the most harmful rates. The reasons for this are complex and likely exacerbated by pandemic restrictions which may have cut off social and professional support or deterred people from seeking help in the first instance. We call for increased targeted support for those struggling with their relationship with alcohol to ensure that the effects of this year are not compounded in the future.”

Response to Kings College London study on increased drinking among 55-74 year olds

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commented:

“This is yet another study that shows the majority of UK consumers, including baby boomers, drank responsibly throughout the pandemic. The sample shows a positive increase in the number who were drinking at lower levels and an appreciable decrease in those who reported hazardous or harmful drinking. However, the findings reinforce the incredibly concerning pattern that a small number of people drinking at the highest level of alcohol harm appear to have further increased their drinking. Emerging from lockdown our focus should be targeted on these vulnerable adults, and look at finding support for the complex, multifaceted issues which they face. As such we support the call from the researchers to consider how to further develop support for older people with alcohol use disorders.”