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.