Ireland’s minimum unit pricing (MUP) policy came into effect on January 4, 2022. MUP is section 12 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act of 2018.
The policy set a floor price of €1 for a unit of alcohol (10g).
The first results of the MUP policy have now come in. However, with just six months into ful MUP implementation it is still too early to evaluate the policy fully.
According to NielsenIQ data, off-trade alcohol sales in Ireland have dropped this year by €84 million or 22 million in liters. Beer sales account for 52% of the decrease in value, spirits 16%, and wine 32%.
This is estimated to be due to the high off-trade sales volumes in the first quarter of 2021 when on-trade outlets were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Nielsen does note that Ireland’s drop in off-trade sales volumes this year was sharper than in Britain where MUP policy is not implemented.
Off-trade sales in 2022 are still 11% higher than pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Analysts say it is too early to examine the impact of MUP since many factors such as higher grocer sales and inflationary pressures also affect off-trade alcohol sales.
A consumer study conducted in April 2022 found that 88% of people noticed a difference in the price of alcohol products since the MUP policy came into effect.
60% responded that they would reduce their alcohol expenditure as a result.
The number of economy-priced spirits brands has reduced in Ireland since most were delisted due to a lower price differential. Larger unit sizes are also declining in sales, for example 700ml and larger bottles accounted for 61% of sales prior to MUP and have fallen to 55% since MUP. Wine products have been less affected. €9 to €10 priced wine sales have increased from 26% to 41%.
Cross border trade with Northern Ireland
One of the reasons that the Republic of Ireland delayed implementing their MUP policy was that they were waiting for their Northern neighbors to implement the MUP policy at the same time. This was to prevent cross-border alcohol trade issues between the North and the South on the island.
However, plans to introduce MUP have been delayed in the North. Northern Ireland’s Minister of Health informed that they would not be bringing in MUP till at least after their elections in May 2022. There is still no news of the North implementing MUP.
This means with the MUP in Ireland the price discrepancy of alcohol products between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland deepened from 27% to 48%.
This has given rise to cross-border alcohol trade issues between the Republic and the North.
Since the North has not implemented MUP with the Republic it is estimated to result in a €94 million loss to the Irish Exchequer due to cross-border trade. This is why it is important for close-knit regions to collaborate on alcohol policies – as also a recent WHO Europe on minimum alcohol pricing highlighted.
One border-shop on the North says their alcohol sales have grown by about 30-40% since MUP was implemented in the Republic. People come across the border from the Republic and bulk buy alcohol in the border shops in the North spending between €200 to €400, up to €2,000 or €3,000 in one go on alcohol.
One supermarket on the border in Donegal in the Republic of Ireland reports that while their overall sales have increased alcohol sales have decreased by 13%.
The Irish Convenience Store and Newsagents Association (CSNA) reports the cross border issues are seen about 40km from the border mainly and then has a ripple effect.
Not much difference in alcohol sales in shops away from the border
Going more into the country away from the border shops report being less affected by the MUP.
The National Off-Licence Association (Noffla) says off-licenses have not seen a significant effect so far from the MUP. Off-licenses were supporters of the MUP since supermarket sales of alcohol were threatening their business by being able to sell alcohol at a loss.
Convenience stores also report no change in alcohol sales. However, there are no spikes in sales on bank holidays anymore since they cannot run large discount bargains for alcohol products.
Many supermarkets are also noting no difference in alcohol sales, saying people are just willing to pay more for the same products now.
Craft brewers also report a minimal effect or even a positive effect on their sales. They believe the MUP has leveled the playing field for them since they can not compete with large multinationals. So as people shift to more expensive alcohol products they are trying out more of the craft brands.
Change in how alcohol products are sold
Damian O’Reilly, senior lecturer of retail management in TU Dublin notes the biggest change has been in how alcohol is now sold in Ireland.
Slabs of beer are now almost nonexistent since no one would spend on it. Instead, there are smaller packs. Instead of buying a slab, people would buy four or eight packs. The volume in beer cans has also changed. 500 ml cans have been downsized to 440 ml.
How will MUP help reduce the alcohol problem in Ireland?
Ireland is affected had a heavy burden from the harm caused by the alcohol industry.
- According to the Health Research Board between 2012 and 2017, there were 121,919 hospital discharges with a partially alcohol-attributable condition
- Figures from the National Cancer Registry of Ireland showed a 300% increase in liver cancer diagnoses in Ireland from the mid-1990s to 2014. A rise that has been attributed to alcohol consumption.
- 1,094 alcohol-related deaths were recorded in 2017 — an average of three deaths per day. Of those, more than 70% were under 65 years old, highlighting the high levels of premature mortality associated with the substance.
While it is far too soon to analyze the results of MUP in Ireland, nearby Scotland implemented the policy in 2018. Scotland’s MUP policy has proven to be effective. A study published in The Lancet found that since MUP household alcohol purchases in Scotland have reduced by 7.7%. According to the study the reductions in purchases were largely from households that bought the most alcohol.
A second study by Public Health Scotland, published in June 2022 found that those who suffered the most from alcohol problems have not changed their habits since the MUP was implemented.
Sheila Gilheany, chief executive officer of Alcohol Action Ireland said that MUP was designed to reduce population-level alcohol use and not tackle alcohol dependence.
MUP is designed to help reduce sales and use across the whole of the alcohol consuming population, particularly those who have a pattern of [alcohol] use consistent with hazardous or heavy use,” said Sheila Gilheany, chief executive officer of Alcohol Action Ireland, as per The Irish Times.Sheila Gilheany, chief executive officer of Alcohol Action Ireland
The Irish Times: “Take-home alcohol sales 11% higher than pre-pandemic levels despite minimum unit pricing“
The Irish Times: “Ireland’s alcohol prices: People from Republic travelling to North’s off-licences and spending ‘up to €3,000’ at a time“