Carlsberg is one product to have seen a reduction in abv in the UK

The average strength of beers, ciders and spirits has fallen in the UK since duty changes introduced last year, a new study in scientific journal Public Health has found.

The study – titled ’The early impact of the UK’s new alcohol taxation system on product strength and price’ – analysed the strength and price of 279 beers, 80 ciders and 192 spirits on sale on the website of Tesco from May to October 2023.

It showed the average abv of these drinks had fallen by 0.01%, 0.04% and 0.05% respectively over the period. 

In total, 13 beers saw an average reduction in abv of 0.25%. Six of these products were reformulated to fall into the new lower 3.4% abv and below tax threshold, while one product dropped from 8.5% abv to 8.4% to fall into the new standard tax band.

In spirits, three gins and two rums saw a mean reduction of 1.8% abv, while in cider, four products saw a fall in abv.

None of the 67 RTDs reviewed by the study saw changes in their strength, while wines were excluded on the basis changes will not be fully implemented until February 2025. 

Despite reformulations, the average price per 10ml of pure alcohol had become “significantly higher”, climbing by 5p, 8p and 6p across beer, cider and spirits respectively, the study’s authors said.

Thanks to the favourable impact of tax changes on RTDs, the mean price per 10ml of pure alcohol in these products fell by 11p.

Read More: How duty changes are driving innovation in beer and cider

The data suggested tax bands “might incentivise reformulation” and a further reduction in the upper end of the new standard tax band (currently 8.5% abv) could “encourage reformulation of the strongest products and have greater public health potential”, its authors wrote.

“However, we accept that other factors, such as one-off annual effects, seasonal patterns, and other influences (such as the cost of living crisis), may have influenced our results,” they added.

The exact products examined in the study were not revealed by its authors. However, high-profile products to have been reformulated since duty changes implemented in August were announced include Carlsberg Pilsner, John Smith’s Extra Smooth, Brothers Cider and Bud Light.