Sales of Buckfast skyrocketed during first year of minimum unit pricing in Scotland

Sales of Buckfast and flavoured fortified wine MD 20/20 soared in the year following the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol, new research has found, as the policy’s effectiveness was called into question.

Despite the stated aim of the Scottish Government’s introduction of MUP to curtail the purchase of high-strength, cheap and highly palatable alcoholic beverages, sales of Dragon Soop, WKD and MD 20/20 showed large increases, while Buckfast sales rose by 40 per cent in the first year of MUP.

The figures have been revealed by a Public Health Scotland (PHS) report, which evaluates the price and range of alcohol products in the Scottish off-trade sector in the 12 months following the implementation of MUP. The policy was implemented on May 1, 2018.

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While the research shows the average price of alcoholic drinks in the off-trade increased in Scotland to a greater extent than in England and Wales over the same period, it also shows the sale of several alcoholic beverages increased.

A customer looks at alcohol on the shelf at a supermarket. Picture: PA
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The report states: “Natural volume sales of both Buckfast Tonic Wine and MD 20/20 increased in Scotland in the year following MUP implementation, with per-adult sales of Buckfast increasing the greatest at 40 per cent – a considerably greater relative increase than was seen between the two pre-MUP years.

“While sales of MD 20/20 increased in 2018/19, the increase was less than that seen between the two pre-MUP years. Sales of both brands in England and Wales were a fraction of those in Scotland and decreased over the same time period.”

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However, the report does show a change in both pricing and consumer preferences following the introduction of MUP. In the first year of MUP, sales of cider took a hit.

Of the five brands common to both supermarkets and convenience stores, three – own-brand cider, Magners Original and Strongbow Original – fell in natural volume sales in both sectors. This was not the case in England and Wales, however, where all brands except Strongbow Original increased in natural volume sales over the same time period.

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The remaining two brands investigated in the report, Kopparberg and Strongbow Dark Fruit, increased in natural volume sales in both sectors following MUP implementation. K Cider is notable as the only high-strength cider brand to have shown an increase in sales in Scotland.

The size of available cider has reduced too. Bottles above one litre, notorious for containing cheap, strong cider, have reduced in availability, and now make up just 10 per cent of the market share – a drop that has not been observed in England and Wales.

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The research also shows the average price of alcoholic drinks in the off-trade increased in Scotland to a greater extent than in England and Wales over the same period.

The greatest increases in price were seen in the types of alcoholic drinks that were priced the lowest relative to their alcohol by volume (ABV) prior to MUP, such as some ciders, perries and supermarket own-brand spirits – all of which tended to be priced below £0.50 per unit prior to MUP being implemented.

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The products that increased the least in average price, such as some ready-to-drink beverages, or those that fell in price, such as some fortified wines in convenience stores, appeared most likely to see increased sales.

Dr Karl Ferguson, public health intelligence adviser at PHS, said: “In the first 12 months after MUP was implemented, we found that, especially for products that were priced below £0.50 per unit of alcohol prior to MUP, prices went up, the amount sold in larger container sizes went down, and sales also declined.

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“We also found that, because of the price increase, even in instances where the volume of sales went down, the value of sales remained fairly constant or increased.”

The findings come after a separate report published in July found MUP may not be curbing heavy drinking among the more vulnerable consumers in Scotland. Experts said consumption among the 5 per cent of heaviest drinkers in Scotland has actually increased after the price control measure was introduced.

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Scottish Government public health minister Maree Todd said: “Alcohol harms cause misery for not just the drinker, but also for families, friends and the wider community, but we recognise that it is often a consequence of wider societal issues which is why we are doing all we can to help people get the support they need. We are currently reviewing minimum unit pricing and will soon consult on restrictions on the marketing of alcohol to help drive down hazardous consumption.”

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