Nielsen insight: how minimum unit pricing has affected Scottish shoppers

When the notion of MUP was first introduced in Scotland, I remember thinking “this is big” and I wondered how the industry would react. I also wondered how I would react if the same were to be implemented in England. Would it make a difference to how or what alcohol I buy? Would I even notice the price rises? 

In May 2018, the Scottish government implemented legislation for MUP, which meant that a single unit of alcohol could not be sold for less than 50p. Now, 10 months on, with the legislation fully embedded, how have Scottish shoppers have reacted and what, if anything, has changed? 

The vast majority of Scottish shoppers, 94%, are aware of minimum unit pricing, although 19% of shoppers are unaware that the MUP legislation covers all alcoholic drinks, according to our research. There clearly remains some confusion among shoppers about what exactly the legislation applies to within the alcoholic drinks category. 

The impact of the 50p minimum price affected categories within the off-trade, and the brands within them, very differently. For example, we saw limited pricing impact to the overall wine category, whereas the lager, cider and spirits categories saw the most disruption in price. Own-label products also suffered as their price point became much more in line with their branded counterparts. So for those 6% of Scottish shoppers who say they were not aware of the new legislation, it may be simply down to the fact that the products they bought before and now post-MUP simply weren’t affected very much. 

So how do Scottish shoppers feel about the legislation? Only half of shoppers agree that it was right to introduce the legislation. In general, millennials are more positive about MUP, probably because they are known to consume alcohol in moderation and they are also known to experiment with premium options in the off-trade. We see spend per shopper on the rise among millenials as units per shopper fall. The price rises may not have affected their spend as much as it has for those aged 55-plus, who are less positive overall about the legislation. 

Even though only half agree with MUP, it is interesting that we have seen an opinion shift in favour of raising the 50p threshold. For example, three in 10 shoppers now believe MUP should be raised from 50p to somewhere up to the £1 mark. This is up from one in 10 shoppers pre-MUP. And it’s the millennials who are more supportive of the rise than those aged 55-plus.

When we asked shoppers how they have been managing their alcohol spend post-MUP, they told us they have adopted various tactics: saving in other areas of their household shopping, buying from off-trade stores outside of Scotland, and drinking out more in the on-trade as they believe the price gap is closing. 

The effect on the off-trade is that value sales are up 8% – no surprise as overall prices have risen – but volume is almost flat. However, Scottish shoppers are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to buying alcohol, and many are shifting their spend to more premium products or mixing up their repertoire. Around one in five shoppers claim to have bought more premium brands as they believe them to be more affordable compared to cheaper brands.     

Minimum unit pricing is here to stay in Scotland, and to succeed the trade should continue to offer greater choice to shoppers, with brands across various price points and abv levels, to ensure the range is optimised to cater for changing behaviour. We know not all shoppers are created equal, but we can take many learnings from the evolving behaviour of the Scottish shopper to help with planning for the launch of MUP in Wales later this year.

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