The UK consumes 4.4 billion litres of beer annually₁, with the cider market an additional 822 million₂ litres on top of this. Both sectors are consistently targeted by the government, because of their agenda of reducing alcohol consumption, as a result of concerns surrounding the negative impact alcohol has on health. For years, the government, industry officials and health lobbies have been rallying against stronger beers, with arguments of the alcohol content and pack format encouraging reckless and immoderate consumption. Whilst it may be the case that a small minority of drinkers’ abuse alcohol usage, this is in fact industry wide and is not limited to the stronger beer and cider categories alone.
There have been numerous changes of late that will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the beer and cider categories and how the market changes as a result. The first of many important changes to affect the UK alcohol market across all sectors was the reduction in the recommended weekly alcohol unit consumption limit, set by the Chief Medical Officers. The change saw a unit reduction of over 30% in the recommended amount for males, which saw the units go from 21 to 14, bringing them in line with the recommended weekly maximum for women. This was followed by the introduction on Minimum Unit Pricing in Scotland, which came into effect in May 2018. Each unit of alcohol must be sold at a minimum price of 50 pence. Wales have a proposed MUP at the same rate, being reviewed for introduction in late 2019. February 2019 saw an increase in the duty rate for mid-strength ciders. The UK duty rates for beer and cider are already some of the highest in the world, with the treasury receiving over £10bn annually in duty tax from alcohol sales. All these changes are in addition to the licencing restrictions imposed by local authorities and the persistent approach the Portman Group take to target higher strength beers and ciders; usually over 6% abv.
The UK beer and cider markets are of a substantial size, with continued growth forecast over the next few years. The UK off-trade sees 2.4 billion litres of beer sold each year₁. The most popular pack format is can, and it is estimated that as many as 6.4 billion cans of beer are sold in the UK alone₃. The effect of this industry on the environment is significant. Research suggests that 3.7 billion of these cans are 4.5% abv and under₃. We believe that if a drinker chooses to consume 1 can of 9% abv lager over 2 cans of 4.5% abv lager then the aluminium waste would be halved (assuming the drinker consumes the same number of units). This is because to ingest the same level of units, the consumer would need to drink twice as many cans of 4.5% abv lager than 9% abv lager. Many mainstream lagers are significantly less in abv than 4.5%, which would make the positive effect on the environment of switching to a stronger beer even more dramatic. If every 4.5% abv can and under, sold in the UK, was replaced with a 9% abv, the number of cans could be reduced by a minimum of 1.7billion. If these cans were put end to end, there would be enough to reach the top of Everest 29,049 times or circle the world 6 times! The UK cider market could also benefit from consumers drinking the units from stronger ciders, rather than lower alcohol strength products; the products that all the government’s actions are driving us towards. As many as 600m cans of cider are sold in the UK each year. If the principle is applied to this category as well, then around 200m cans used in the cider market could be saved each year₄.
Not only could there be a significant reduction in the amount of raw materials used within the beer and cider industries, but also in the amount of pollution made as a result of the manufacturing process. Of course, the aluminium can be recycled, so it is not the waste alone that is driving our logic. To get the cans, they need to be produced which creates pollution and increases use of raw materials, including water. They also need to be transported, which has an impact on the environment, congestion and road damage. If people chose to drink the same number of units from one can of 9% abv lager instead of two cans of 4.5% abv lager, we could take an estimated 33,000 lorry journeys out of the system in the UK alone for beer, which would significantly reduce the pollution footprint, congestion and impact on the roads. Similarly, with the cider category, a switch to a higher strength cider over an increased quantity of lower abv cider could save an additional 3,300 journeys. Switching to a stronger beer and cider but drinking less quantity could mean that as many as 24,000 tonnes of aluminium combined could be taken out of production each year, which also reduces the risk of it ending up in landfill₆.
It is a simple change that could have a significant positive impact on the environment, both in the production process and post consumption. Another factor to consider when exploring waste reduction is that stronger abv lagers are often sold in single cans. Where lower abv products are often sold in 4-packs, 8-packs and boxes of 15; wrapped in cardboard or plastic, stronger abv lagers are often single cans or wrapped in minimal packaging, reducing the plastic and cardboard used.
We advise consumers to make a conscious decision. When looking at the range and variety on shelf, re-evaluate your normal choice. Instead of opting for the 4-pack of 3-4% beer or cider wrapped in plastic or buying a bulk box of 15 cans because it’s on offer, choose a stronger abv beer or cider buy less; drink one can instead of two. Research has found that consumers are more likely to drinker higher strength products in lower quantities, and on their heaviest drinking days over twice as many men ‘binge’ on normal strength beer and cider when compared to the over consumption rate of higher strength beer and cider₅. we believe that in some important respects, such as protecting the environment, we believe that stronger is better. Whether you agree with this bold statement or not, it’s hard to argue with the logic behind it. If consumers drink the same number of units from a higher strength product as they would traditionally consume from a greater volume of lower strength beer or cider, the quantity they need to consume to ingest the same level of alcohol reduces. This reduction in volume is key and will have a significant positive impact on the environment if adopted by beer and cider consumers.
For the Drinks Retailing News Article:
1.BBPA Beer Barometer 2018
2.Weston’s Cider Report 2019
- calculated using IRI MAT Volume Data to September 17
- calculated using the Weston’s Cider Report 2019
- Statistics on Alcohol, England, 2018/ONS, 2016
- calculated using average can size and number of cans able to be transported on one standard trunker. Assumptions based on volume being consumed from aluminium canned products.