People drank less in the early months of the covid-19 pandemic, when restrictions included the closure of pubs, bars and clubs, compared to the same months in previous years.
Research published this week showed a 6% reduction in total alcohol sales in Scotland, England and Wales in the period from March 15th to July 11th. There were increases in off-trade sales but these “did not fully replace” the reduction in on-trade sales associated with the closure of pubs, clubs and restaurants.
Average weekly alcohol sales during the period were 17.5 units per adult in Scotland, and 16.7 in England and Wales. This remained in excess of the UK chief medical officers’ guideline of 14 units per week.
The research, commissioned by Public Health Scotland, also showed an increase in solitary drinking in both England and Scotland.
Indeed, the researchers warned that these population-level findings “mask a wide range of individual-level responses to the pandemic and to the related restrictions”. Improved understanding of how the restrictions have affected consumption across different population sub-groups is now needed, they said, given the evidence that drinking at “hazardous levels” may have increased for some.
The findings come from two studies. One used weekly alcohol sales data to estimate the impact on population level alcohol consumption in Scotland, England and Wales. The data include both sales through the off-trade (supermarkets and off-licences) and the on-trade (pubs, clubs and restaurants) during the period January 2017 to July 2020.
The second study used self-reported data to assess how drinking behaviour changed, and how particular population sub-groups were affected, during the first three months of the pandemic.
Off-trade sales between March and July 2020 increased 28% in Scotland and 29% in England and Wales. The volumes of alcohol sold as wine per adult went up 4% in Scotland and 8% in England and Wales.
Beer, which typically accounts for one third of all alcohol sales, dropped 23% in Scotland and 19% in England and Wales. Per adult spirit sales remained unchanged.
The 2020 market report published by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association recently showed alcohol sales fell during 2020. “It’s a myth that people are drinking more during lockdown,” WSTA chief executive Miles Beale told The Guardian. “With so many pubs and restaurants being forced to close their doors and large gatherings banned, people are not drinking as much as they would be in normal circumstances.”
Hospitality leaders this month called on the government to provide urgent clarity on when and how the sector can reopen or risk thousands more job losses and business failures.