High-strength cider and perry has experienced the biggest decreases in stocking by retailers in Scotland since the introduction of minimum unit pricing two years ago.

A study of small stores commissioned by Public Health Scotland and carried out by the University of Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing & Health found widespread destocking of products that had seen the biggest price increases under MUP.

It concluded that the policy, introduced in May 2018, had achieved its aim in reducing sales of those products previously sold at less than 50p per unit, with little or no adverse impact on small retailers over all.

Clare Beeston, public health intelligence principal at Public Health Scotland, said: “These findings show an encouraging pattern of behaviour change emerging among small retailers and customers.”

Martine Stead, deputy director of ISMH and the report’s lead author, added: “Our interviews with small retailers found that they took compliance seriously and there were almost no instances of pricing below MUP when we visited stores after MUP had been introduced.

“Retailers reported that they had reduced or stopped stocking some products that had seen particularly large increases in price under MUP – for example, larger bottles of ciders.

“Overall, we observed the most changes in high-strength ciders and perry categories, both of which had typically been priced below MUP.

“For the small retailers themselves, implementation of MUP was reported to be generally straightforward, with little or no adverse effect on small businesses.

“Many felt they were better able to compete with prices in supermarkets following the implementation of MUP.”

The research ran from August 2017 to January 2019, nine months before and after the MUP policy was implemented, and looked at EPOS data on 2,000 products sold by 200 small retailers across Scotland.

Interviews with retailers were carried out in 20 stores before and after the policy came in.

More detailed examination was made of big-selling Scottish drinks brands including Buckfast, Frosty Jack’s, Glen’s vodka, Tennent’s Lager and Strongbow Original.

It showed that the price differential between a bottle of Glen’s and Smirnoff narrowed from £1.84 in August 2018 to 79p in August 2017.

Dr Natahan Critchlow, a research fellow at the institute and a co-author of the report, said: “Across the different parts of the study, we observed that alcohol products previously sold below 50p per unit either increased in price in line with MUP, or that small retailers stopped selling them.

“Alcohol products that were previously sold above 50p per unit generally appeared to increase in price across the study. However, it was not clear if variations in price for these products were linked to MUP, or influenced by other contextual determinants. We found no consistent evidence of prices decreasing towards MUP.

“We also observed some changes in alcohol product ranges that are plausibly related to MUP. For example, some manufacturers introduced lower strength and smaller sized alternatives for products which had previously been sold below MUP.”

During the interviews, small retailers had varying perceptions of the impact of MUP on their overall alcohol sales, said the report.

Some perceived that sales had declined, while others described increased profit margins for several products.

Some described changes in purchasing patterns, with customers moving from higher to lower strength products, those in smaller pack sizes, or those perceived to offer better value now that they were sold at similar prices.

There were very few reports of hostile customer reactions, increases in theft or localised illicit trade.