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30 Sept 2022

Watchdog warns that alcohol is far too cheap in shops

Watchdog warns that alcohol is far too cheap in shops

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Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI), the independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm, has today published its annual Off-Trade (excl. licensed premises) alcohol price survey.  

The findings confirm the exceptional affordability of alcohol to every day shoppers and reaffirms the necessity for the commencement of minimum pricing of alcohol products that will ensure the strongest, cheapest alcohol is eliminated from the market. 

The AAI Price Survey found that – 

- an adult male, consuming alcohol within the HSE low-risk guidelines can drink the weekly low-risk limit (17 Standard Drinks) for as little as €7.65, and 

- an adult female, consuming alcohol within the HSE low-risk guidelines can drink the weekly low-risk limit (11 Standard Drinks) for as little as €4.95. 

The average annual hourly earnings of all employees were €25.02 in 2020 (CSO, June 2021) while the national minimum wage, for an experienced adult employee, is €10.20 per hour (1 Jan 2021). 

The Survey highlights a sophisticated pricing strategy for alcohol across the Irish Off-Trade market, which enhances affordability at all levels of retail experience (supermarkets, convenience stores and neighbourhood shops), and the value of the Irish Off-Trade shared amongst a small number of major retail operators.

Additionally, our observation suggests compliance with Section 22 (Separation and visibility of alcohol products) of the Public Health Alcohol Act across the retail landscape, remains uneven and unsatisfactory.  

In a separate piece of timely research, conducted by a Masters of Public Health student at University College Cork (fieldwork, May 2021), an assessment of the four key provisions of the public health alcohol legislation, found only a 58% compliance amongst a sample group of 90 retailers.

Commenting on the findings of the 2021 Survey, Eunan McKinney, Head of Communications at Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI), said: “The affordability of alcohol from off-trade businesses, across a retail landscape dominated by a handful of major players, continues to sustain Ireland’s harmful use of alcohol.

"Whether drinkers are seeking the greatest purchasing power in discount supermarkets from Thurles to Terenure, or convenient stores from Waterville to Walkinstown, our survey highlights that exceptionally affordable alcohol is ever-present in every community across Ireland. 

"With a minimum pricing regime to be introduced for 2022, it is evident that the alcohol producers and retailers are already shifting their marketing strategies to ensure retention of key price points.

"What this may result in is lesser multi-unit packs and perhaps a greater prevalence of smaller volume units such as 440 ml cans or 500ml spirits products." 

Dr. Sheila Gilheany, CEO, Alcohol Action Ireland, commented: "The unsatisfactory rate of compliance by retailers to match the regulations of the Public Health Alcohol Act, after having been afforded a two-year transition, is deeply disappointing.

"It demonstrates, yet again, an unwillingness of those hyper selling alcohol to respond to the spirit of public health initiatives.  

"A generational shift in attitude towards alcohol can be achieved in Ireland but only if those at the heart of its commerce, act in manner that is compliant with the law.” 

The Price Survey conducted between 12-28 July, across four nationwide locations, two urban and two regional towns, highlights that cider products remain the cheapest, strongest alcohol products available to the off-trade consumer.  

Beer products are the second cheapest ahead of Wine and Spirit products, such as gin and whiskey. 

The survey noted significant hyper-discounting of beer, while premium spirits continue to press beyond the threshold of the pending minimum pricing regime. 

The Irish consumer can spend as little as: 

0.45c for a Standard Drink of Cider        (0.44c, 2020) 

0.46c for a Standard Drink of Beer         (0.52c, 2020) 

0.56c for a Standard Drink of Wine        (0.59c, 2020) 

0.68c for a Standard Drink of Gin           (0.69c, 2020) 

0.63c for a Standard Drink of Vodka       (0.62c, 2020) 

0.68c for a Standard Drink of Whiskey    (0.62c, 2020) 

 The introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol products will ensure that a standard drink of any alcohol product, cannot be purchased in Ireland for less than €1. 

 In Ireland, a standard drink is 10 grams of alcohol; the Public Health Alcohol Act sets the minimum price for a gram of alcohol at 0.10c; 0.10c per gram x 10 equals €1.  

 The continued use by Irish retailers, especially on their online shopping portals, of UK based guidelines that reflect a smaller Standard Drink measure (8gm), remains problematic and misleading. It points to the need for the urgent implementation of the health information labelling requirements as provided for by the Public Health Alcohol Act. 

Ireland’s Off-Trade licence holders – supermarkets, convenience stores and neighbourhood shops - shared a €2.71 billion off-trade COVID market (CSO: National Income and Expenditure, 2020). 

The National Drug and Alcohol Survey findings, published by the Health Research Board (HRB) in July 2021, found that the prevalence of alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the general population to be 14.8%, corresponding to one in every seven – or 578,000 adults in Ireland.  

Excessive use, fuelled by exceptional affordability from the off-trade, sustains alcohol as Ireland’s number one drug of choice. 

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