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In a sense, the government have been quite clever in settling on 45p/unit as their proposed minimum alcohol price. 40p would have brought about a terrible howling and gnashing of teeth from the anti-drink lobby, whereas 50p would have looked like slavish copying of the Jocks and also would have impacted on enough popular drinks to fan popular discontent.
But 45p is cunningly around or just above the price at which most mainstream alcohol brands currently sell. Yesterday I had a nose around my local Tesco at categories of drink that I don’t normally buy. All the three top-selling cooking lager brands – Carling, Carlsberg and Fosters – were a full £4 for 4x440ml cans, which is well above 55p. Oddly, the supposedly premium Stella 4% and Beck’s Vier were only £3.40, although that is still comfortably above 45p. Does that suggest “premium mainstream” has had its day? Four cans of 5% Strongbow were £3.99, pretty much spot on the minimum price.
Of the top Scotches, Bell’s and Teacher’s were both £12 a bottle, a bit below the £12.60 minimum price, but I think only a short-term seasonal offer. During the year they’re normally at least £13, often more. And Grouse was £13 anyway. There was very little on the wine shelves below £4.39, which would be the minimum price for a 13% bottle. While there were a number of German wines at £3.99, those are mostly only 11% or so, and would still be OK.
Yes, if you’re buying economy brands, or discounted slabs, you will suffer. But Joe and Joanne Moderate-Drinker could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about.
On the other hand, the store was brimming with multibuy offers – 4 premium bottled ales for £6, various world beers at 3 for 2, 25% off any 6 bottles of wine. Probably very little, if any, of these would take you below 45p/unit, but they will be outlawed just as surely as lower-priced drinks. And that is where the typical aspirational C1C2 voter filling up their car boot will really feel the pain. They might imagine from the media discussion that the proposals will only affect tramps and chavs, but they would be very wrong.
The argument for banning multibuy discounts is that they encourage people to drink more than they otherwise would. However, I would have thought that in general they tend to be used by organised people to do their drink buying in the most cost-effective way. Almost by definition, problem drinkers aren’t going to be laying it in weeks in advance. Plus banning multibuys in Scotland has had no effect on overall sales levels. If the discounted price is already well above the minimum price, what is the point of banning the discount? Will offering malt whiskies at £25 a bottle, or £40 for two, really lead to an increase in binge-drinking?
If there is no minimum price, then arguably it makes a bit of sense, but with a minimum price it is utterly pointless, just another small, irritating, niggly restriction on the responsible drinker, just another notch on the denormalisation of alcohol.