by Gareth Groves
Apparently we all lie when asked how much alcohol we drink. According to new research by University College of London, there is a significant gap between the amount of alcohol purchased in the UK and the amount we admit to consuming.
Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely that this shortfall can be accounted for by collectors of fine wine filling their cellars with bottles to be enjoyed in coming decades once they have arrived at optimum maturity.
The truth is people don’t understand the guidelines that surround alcohol. The concept of a unit of alcohol is actually quite complicated. The UK’s definition is 10ml of alcohol (it varies in other countries), all very scientific but not very useful to the average drinker.
We need something more tangible: how many units are in this glass of wine or that beer? The problem, of course, is it depends on the product and the size of the serve. Even something as relatively straightforward as a pint of 4% beer comes in at 2.3 units – hardly the easiest number for consumers to get their head around.
The difference in units between a 125ml glass of a 12.5% wine and a “large” 250ml glass of a 14.5% blockbuster is over two whole units, but how many drinkers leave the pub thinking they’ve just had “a glass”?
The predictable response from politicians to the University College of London survey has been legislative: increase duty on alcohol, ban multi-buys and introduce minimum pricing. None of this is likely to have much of an impact.
Cumulative duty on wine has already increased by 36% since 2008 and on spirits by 31%. Multi-buy legislation in Scotland has had a negligible effect on volume sales when compared to other regions in the UK, and a 40p or 50p per unit minimum price will only influence those on lower incomes rather than everyone who needs to think about their alcohol consumption.
What is required is more, and better, education with an emphasis on drinking less but better. Drinking excessive amounts of cheap alcohol is bad for your health and can have serious knock-on effects for society as a whole.
It is also a bad business model for the wine industry. With duty and other fixed costs rising, margins are being squeezed. We need to convince consumers that they will have a much better experience by spending a few pounds more on a bottle of wine; that they could buy one brilliant £10 bottle rather than two £5 bottles. They will get a much better product to drink and we make a more profitable sale.
To do this we need to be thinking less about sales volumes and more about the consumer experience. We need to find ways to help people discover new wines and be less intimidated by the supermarket wine aisle or restaurant wine list. Our Taste Test concept tries to do exactly that.
The pipe dream is a society made up of informed, happy consumers buying a bit less often but spending more money on better wines when they do make a purchase. This way, everybody wins.
However, unless we all do our bit to educate drinkers and build an argument that there is real value in buying better wines, it will remain just that: a pipe dream.