Beer alcohol

Reductions in the strength of drinks helped the industry cut 253 million units of alcohol from shelves in a year

Retailers and drinks suppliers removed 253 million units of alcohol from the shelves in the first year of the industry’s flagship alcohol reduction pledge, according to the first major progress report on one of the government’s flagship Responsibility Deal pledges.

The report by the Department of Health suggests the industry is on course to hit the planned reduction of one billion units of alcohol by the end of 2015.

However, the update, which looks at the progress made in the 12 months since the 2011 base year, shows that while there were significant falls in the average ABVs of beer, cider and ready to drink products such as alcopops, the average ABV for spirits and wine rose, leading to an overall 0.05 percentage point rise across the market as a whole to 7.31%.

Reductions in the average ABVs of beer were by far the biggest contributor between 2011-12, contributing a reduction of 252 million units towards the billion figure, with cider accounting for a fall of 51 million.

Measures included Heineken reducing the ABV of bottled and canned Strongbow from 5.3% to 5%, Diageo rolling out mid-strength Guinness and Waitrose reducing the strength of its own-label cider.

However, an increase in the average ABV for spirits and wine offset the fall by 42 million and 15 million units respectively, with the report revealing a shift in the overall market share towards wine and spirits.

During the period the average ABV of spirits rose by 0.14% points and the average ABV of wine also increased slightly.

Overall the report shows a fall of 1.3 billion units of alcohol sold between 2011 and 2012, reflecting the “downward pressure” in the overall volume of alcohol sold as well as the “slight upward shift in market share towards higher-strength products”.

The DH said it expected the pledge to “result in many hundreds fewer alcohol-related deaths and many thousands fewer hospital admissions”.

‘Good news’

“It is good news that producers and retailers have already removed 253 million units of alcohol from the UK market and are on track to remove one billion units by the end of 2015,” said Henry Ashworth, Portman Group chief executive and chair of the Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network.

“This report shows the first year results of this four-year pledge so it is important that we stay focused on continuing this industry-wide innovation.”

“Our brewers are making great progress in delivering the pledge in two ways,” added Brigid Simmonds, BBPA chief executive. “They have adjusted the strengths of certain products, and are also being hugely innovative in bringing new, lower-strength products to market and giving consumers greater choice.”

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Convenience stores have been a major part of the billion-unit pledge as part of the Responsibility Deal, with suppliers, wholesalers and retailers making a number of important commitments to reduce alcohol consumption, including reformulating products to contain less alcohol, and promoting lower alcohol alternatives in the category.  

”The announcement of the billion unit reduction is a timely reminder of the considerable steps the industry has taken to address alcohol harm.”