Minimum unit pricing: what the people think

The Scottish government initially passed legislation for minimum pricing of alcohol back in 2012 and, following a lengthy legal challenge, it will be coming into force at the start of May. Once in place, it means that a single unit of alcohol cannot be sold for less than 50p, so the stronger the drink, the more expensive it will be. 

At Nielsen, we will be watching the impact of this legislation closely and it’s important to first establish the level of awareness of minimum unit pricing as well as any preconceived views before it comes into force.  

Our research found that three-quarters of those in Scotland were aware of the legislation. In spite of this awareness, however, there is a lack of understanding as to what it actually means – 81% understand that the legislation applies to all types of alcoholic drinks. There’s also a lack of awareness regarding where the extra revenue will go, as nearly two-thirds believe it will go to the Scottish government.

Just over half of those we interviewed said they were broadly in favour of MUP, and there’s a notable difference according to age. Support for the legislation rises to nearly 70% among those aged 18-34, but this support falls as age rises, with nearly a quarter of those aged over 35 saying that they disagreed with the legislation. Interestingly, among those who agree with MUP, there’s an even split in terms of the number of people who think that the 50p unit price is at the right level, compared with those who think it should be set higher.

What does this mean in terms of shopper and drinker behaviour? The majority of those we interviewed, 71%, said they would continue to consume the same amount and type of alcohol once MUP comes into force. 

Around one in six said that they would reduce the amount they consume, and one in 10 plan to drink the same quantity, but change what it is that they drink to something with less alcohol in it and, therefore, cheaper.

Those who were aware of MUP before participating in our survey had clearly been thinking about how to mitigate the impact of the price rise on their own pockets, with significantly more of them saying that they would buy alcohol outside Scotland and take it home, whether from stores or online. 

So far, there is little evidence to suggest that Scottish shoppers are stocking up on alcohol before MUP comes into effect, although as awareness and understanding of what it actually means builds, this may rise as we get closer to the May 1 start date.

Over the coming weeks we will be watching sales of alcohol in Scottish stores, along with those along the border, very closely, and we’ll be doing another survey in a few months’ time. 

While Scottish shoppers are saying that they currently don’t intend to change their drinking habits, once they see the real impact on pricing in-store, this may prompt them to buy and consume alcohol differently.  

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