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Scotland’s multi-buy booze ban ineffective

Scotland’s ban on multi-buy booze promotions has failed to reduce the amount of alcohol bought by Scottish consumers, according to an independent study released yesterday.

Banning multi-buys in Scotland has not reduced the purchasing of booze

Research by the Behaviour and Health Research Unit – a collaboration between the University of East Anglia and the University of Cambridge – has shown that banning multi-buy promotions has failed to reduce the amount of alcohol purchased in a study of over 22,000 households between January 2010 and June 2012.

The ban on promotional tactics such as buy-one-get-one-free (BOGOFs) was implemented in Scotland in October 2011 as part of the Alcohol Act 2010, because it was believed by some in the Scottish government that multi-buy promotions encouraged a greater consumption of alcohol.

Despite warnings by the drinks trade that legislating against certain retailing techniques would fail to address the root causes of alcohol misuse, Scotland went ahead with the multi-buy ban, requiring retailers with outlets across the UK to employ different selling techniques for alcohol in shops north of the Scottish border.

However, findings released yesterday by the Behaviour and Health Research Unit, and published in academic journal Addiction, showed that there was no evidence that the ban of multi-buys had reduced the purchasing of beer, cider, wine or spirits until June 2012. In addition, the research showed that the ban had not reduced the total amount of alcohol units purchased.

“This study provides timely evidence on the seeming ineffectiveness of an intervention designed to reduce alcohol consumption,” said Prof Theresa Marteau, from the University of Cambridge.

Indeed, in June 2012, during an interview with Steve Lewis, CEO at Majestic – a multiple specialist wine business with shops across the UK – it was apparent that the ban on multi-buy deals had not hindered the retailer’s performance and may have actually boosted sales at outlets north of the Scottish border.

When Lewis was asked about the impact of the Scottish government’s ban on multi-buy deals he said, “Funnily enough it has helped us in Scotland.”

This, he explained, was because it allowed those shopping in Scotland to be “more varied in the product they buy.”

While initial reports from the Scottish government suggested that the multi-buy ban had reduced the amount of alcohol bought in Scotland, it was later shown that the fall in sales was almost the same in England and Wales, where no ban was in place.

In fact, while 3.2 million fewer bottles of wine were bought in Scotland between July 2011 and June 2012, this was in keeping with a nation-wide drop in alcohol consumption primarily believed to be due to a decline in disposable incomes across the UK.

As a consequence, Accolade Wines said in its annual Wine Nation report for 2012, “We can attribute much of the fall in Scotland to a general decline in alcohol consumption.”

Continuing, the market study explained, “The restrictions on multi-buy promotions have seen the amount of wine going into an individual basket decline.

“However, overall, shoppers have simply increased the number of times they buy wine, therefore the average volume purchased across the year has not altered.”

The Wine Nation report 2012 also pointed out that “heavy wine shoppers have not changed their behavior,” and that, “switching the promotional strategy to a low single bottle price has actually encouraged new, lighter shoppers to trial, increasing wine penetration in Scotland since October [2011].”

These initial findings by Accolade Wines were echoed in the report by the Behaviour and Health Research Unit released yesterday. A snapshot of the results from this recent study can be viewed below:

Key findings from the academic report:

• Controlling for general time trends and household heterogeneity, there was no significant effect of the multi-buy ban in Scotland on volume of alcohol purchased either for the whole population or for individual socio-economic groups.

• There was also no significant effect on those who were large pre-ban purchasers of alcohol.

• Most multi-buys were for beer and cider or for wine.

• The frequency of shopping trips involving beer and cider purchases increased by 9.2% following the ban, while the number of products purchased on each trip decreased by 8.1%. For wine, however, these effects were not significant.

The conclusion from the report:

Banning multi-buy promotions for alcohol in Scotland did not reduce alcohol purchasing in the short term. Wider regulation of price promotion and price may be needed to achieve this.

Key facts about the report:

• The study was funded by the Department of Health Policy Research Programme (Policy Research Unit in Behaviour and Health [PR-UN-0409-10109]).

• The Department of Health had no role in the study design, data collection, analysis, or interpretation.

Design and setting:

Difference-in-differences analysis was used to estimate the impact of the ban on the volume of alcohol purchased by Scottish households, compared to those in England and Wales between January 2010 and June 2012.


A total of 22,356 households in Scotland, England, and Wales.


Records of alcohol purchasing from each of four categories (beer & cider, wine, spirits, and flavoured alcoholic beverages), as well as total volume of pure alcohol purchased.

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