The announcement of tough new guidelines on alcohol consumption in the UK advise men and women to consume no more than 14 units per week. The guidelines mark the first time men and women have been given the same alcohol allowance. Mintel’s expert drinks analysts evaluate the impact the new guides may have on the industry…

Jonny Forsyth, Global Food and Drink Analyst

The newly annoujonny_forsythnced tougher drinking guidelines are certainly well-timed. January is a month where many Britons choose to abstain from alcohol and festive revellers are far more likely to buy into anti-alcohol messaging.

However, I don’t think the UK drinks industry should be too worried about an impact on alcohol sales in 2016 or indeed 2017/2018. The idea that now both UK men and women should only drink “seven pints” (more like 3 pints when it comes to craft beer or just 4/5 glasses of wine per week) is likely to be seen by most of the public as ridiculous and completely unattainable. As a result, consumers are more likely to dismiss the guidance as meaningless to their “real world” lives and part of the worst excesses of an increasingly nanny state.

Yet, long-term this adds further foundation to the growing narrative that alcohol consumption - even what we view as modest drinking – has long-term consequences. This narrative has already started to build up steam in the past decade as it becomes clear that what we see as culturally modest drinking can mean more chance of disease. Such thinking partly explains why a significant portion of today’s Millennial generation has embraced teetotal behaviour rather than drinking to excess.

For example, 21% of 18-34 year-old did not drink alcohol in a three month period measured in 2015, according to Mintel’s Attitudes Towards Alcohol Drinks UK 2015 report. This compares to just 14% of 45-54 year-olds, and only the very health-conscious 65+ generation have a higher rate of abstinence.

For decades, drinking was seen as fun and cool. Now, the penny has dropped: it may be fun but that fun comes at your risk. As this message seeps into an increasingly health-obsessed society over the next decade or two, alcohol companies will see their bottom-line badly eroded.

Chris Wisson, Senior Drinks Analyst

TheChris Wisson announcement of these reduced guidelines for alcohol consumption are surprising to say the least. At a recommended weekly unit intake of 14 for both men and women, this now puts Britain well behind its European neighbours such as France (26), Italy (31.5) and Spain (35). After peaking in 2004, Brits have actually been progressively drinking less on average every year since. Mintel research indicates this longer term trend, with 17% of drinkers reporting to cutting back on how much they drink in the three months to May 2015, compared to just 5% who had increased their consumption (73%: the same, 5%: don’t know). Of those cutting back, weight management/part of a diet (38%) and for health reasons (22%) emerge as two of the top four factors.

This therefore begs the question as to whether new guidelines are needed due to the clear progress already being made. The alcohol industry deserves commendation for its efforts in voluntarily reducing the strength of drinks as per the Responsibility Deal and highlighting the health implications of excessive drinking. Indeed, this information comes just days after AB InBev pledged that it would be including calorie labels with full nutritional labels for the majority of its drinks by the end of 2017.

It is therefore understandable that the consensus within the alcoholic drinks industry has been that the guidelines are excessive. The wording is certainly loaded – “exceeding the 14% unit limit leads to a 1% risk of dying from alcohol-related causes” – and could give some consumers cause to reconsider how much they drink.

However, I would not expect this to lead to a notable shift in consumption, as many drinkers are already becoming increasingly watchful over how much they drink, and are unlikely to welcome being dictated to on this matter. Consumer understanding of alcoholic units remains limited and this is in fact rather difficult to gauge given that half of adults drink three or more types of alcoholic drinks. For many consumers, this news story will be forgotten by next week and it is unlikely to lead to a seismic shift in most consumers’ relationship with alcohol.

Jonny Forsyth, Global Drinks Analyst, is responsible for researching and writing all of Mintel’s UK drinks reports. He brings ten years of experience working in the marketing industry, with roles at Starcom Mediavest, AB-Inbev, and Trinity Mirror. He is a regular contributor in global and national media outlets such as BBC, CNBC and Bloomberg.

Chris Wisson, Senior Drinks Analyst at Mintel, researches and writes reports on the UK drinks industry. He was also responsible for setting up Mintel’s Toronto office which opened in May 2014. Prior to joining the company, he worked for M&S/Park Cakes as a Bakery Merchandiser and as a Business Analyst at Moët-Hennessy. Chris has been quoted in a variety of industry and national publications such as BBC Online, the Financial Times and the Guardian.

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